Studio: Entertainment One
Director: David McElroy
Writer: David McElroy, Marc Menet
Producer: Timothy Christian, Marc Menet, David McElroy
Stars: Tuckie White, Matthew Lucki, Jake Hames, Alja Jackson, Kristina Geddes, Zak Hawkins, Jeremy Kahn, Lindsie Garrett, Daniel Baldwin
Eight participants in a medical research study unknowingly become the test subjects for a secret military experiment.
2013’s “After Effect” follows 2012’s “The Facility” (review here) and 2011’s “Expiration” (review here) to round out an unrelated threesome of horror movies about medical research studies gone wrong. Something that all three films have in common is the cautionary lesson that volunteering as a clinical trial test subject is the surest way to become a zombie outside of a reanimated corpse bite.
There is little chance of a discernible sub-genre emerging here since this type of story only has so far that it can go. Subjects unknowingly sign up for a secret experiment. Subjects discover that they are in a secret experiment. Subjects attempt to escape from the secret experiment as they begin mutating.
Lacie Donovan suffers from a problem that is all too common for college students: an empty wallet. With semester break at hand, a flyer on the campus bulletin board offering $1,000 for medical research volunteers could not have been posted at a better time. It is a blind experiment, so the participants do not know what the study is, but Lacie has her friend Killian and a half dozen amiable others to keep her company for the duration. Two men that do know what the study is are a military colonel named Sanders (not the one from Kentucky) and a senator overseeing his secret project for reanimating dead soldiers on the battlefield.
Daniel Baldwin plays the sinister senator. Being the film’s top name, Baldwin also receives top billing, although his presence accounts for four scenes comprising a total runtime of around two minutes. The bulk of his performance is spent with a cell phone in one hand while spouting cryptic, yet important sounding dialogue like, “situation under control? … you call me when it’s done.” Or, “as I was saying colonel, I expect a full report on my desk at the end of the week.” And, “Mister Vice President, everything went as planned. Yes, sir.”
Unknown actress Tuckie White delivers the standout performance in “After Effect” by intentionally not standing out. White makes lead character Lacie extremely likeable with a very natural girl next-door persona. Simple touches such as a casual smile while recalling a pet mouse she once had named after Scooby-Doo’s Daphne paint Lacie as the type of pretty girl that sits somewhere in every classroom, but has a sweetness so subdued that she often goes unnoticed.
While her fellow test subjects range from overly melodramatic to nondescript, other actors find ways to shine in brief appearances. Phillip Edward Van Lear uncannily mirrors the sort of college professor that every university student encounters at one time or another. Van Lear takes some fairly straightforward classroom dialogue and gives it a tone that makes one pay attention in spite of the droll subject matter. The problem that his character has is that he is completely unnecessary.
Independent horror movies of the one dies at a time variety invariably suffer from forgettable characters occupied by cardboard personalities and overused stereotypes. “After Effect” suffers from an ironic problem of spending so much time on introductions that the exposition crawls to a standstill. The tug of war between establishing real people and creating dramatic entertainment is won by the former, yet at the expense of dragging the tempo through the mud.
“After Effect” has so much ground to recover by the third act that the climax starts sprinting towards home plate straight from second base. As a result, the hurried pace makes the final sequence of events feel unbelievably forced. And the threadbare setup only has a modest amount of potential to begin with.
Of the previously mentioned clinical trial gone wrong horror movies, “After Effect” is the weakest. “The Facility” and “Expiration” had twists to their tales while “After Effect” goes straight for slow build zombie infection. The audience already knows what will happen long before the test subjects do. Waiting for them to catch up so that they can turn the proceedings into a small scale version of “28 Days Later” set in a hospital hallway can only have an underwhelming outcome. “After Effect” has some notable performances, a creepily effective musical score, and good production value on a small budget. Unfortunately, it also has limited tension, erratic pacing, and an unsatisfying payoff that keep it from shining as a solid example of body horror or zombie suspense.
Review Score: 55