Justin Lockwood says he was taken with Mali Elfman’s thoughtful debut feature film.
Next Exit, the debut feature written and directed by Mali Elfman, is set in a world where the existence of ghosts and the afterlife has been definitively proven. The revelation has a seismic effect on humanity and creates a new rash of assisted suicides conducted to aid in a controversial scientific study. Participants Rose (Katie Parker, The Haunting of Hill House) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli, Midnight Mass) must travel from New York to San Francisco for their appointments with Life Beyond. The two strangers meet when forced to share a car. What follows is an odd, touching, and consistently fascinating blend of road movie, buddy comedy, and drama, buoyed by two outstanding lead performances.
Next Exit has a strong screenplay and a beautiful mien, the latter thanks to director of photography Azuli Anderson, whose work brought home the Tribeca Festival award for Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature. As the gruff Rose and the offbeat Teddy grow closer, they each open up about their struggles and the baggage that’s led them to choose the afterlife over remaining on this mortal coil. The film has a varied mishmash of tones that could have flopped without careful handling, but Elfman gets the balance just right. Kohli and Parker also hit their stride, both astonishing performers with solid chemistry and deeply felt emotional range. Parker is exceptionally terrific, as her character gradually warms up to Teddy and lays bare her frightening inner demons.
Some eerie elements are enhanced by assured VFX, but ultimately, this is a character-driven movie focused on humanity. It will strike a powerful chord with anyone who’s suffered loss as grief gnaws at the heart of Next Exit. Elfman revealed at the movie’s New York premiere that grief can be so challenging to talk about that she produced a film just to avoid doing so. Luckily for audiences, that movie is beautiful and affecting.
Next Exit world premiered at the Tribeca Festival on June 10, 2022.