Next Exit (2022)

Director: Mali Elfman

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Katie Parker, Rahul Kohli, Rose McIver, Tongayi Chirisa, Tim Griffin, Diva Zappa, Nico Evers-Swindell, Karen Gillan

Opening on a darkened hallway, the camera peers through a door into a young boy's bedroom before he is visited by his dad's ghost. As their encounter is recorded, a massive change is established in this world which can now prove that ghosts exist. Making headlines is Dr. Stevenson (Gillan), whose scientific study requires volunteers to commit painless suicide in order to track their passing into the afterlife. In New York City, strangers Rose (Parker) and Teddy (Kohli) are forced to share a rental car as they travel cross-country to their final destination.

There's an initial frostiness to the pair as Teddy's jokey attitude clashes with Rose's abrasive viewpoint, although that thaws as they spend more time together. The duo bond while sharing confessions, opening up about their troubled lives which led them on this journey. Rose is driven by her guilt which manifests in self-destructive tendencies, while Teddy masks his paternal issues with effortless charm. In a world where ghosts exists, the only thing haunting this pair are their past pain.

While it can sound like a bleak time, writer/director Mali Elfman brings the film alive with wonderful humour to prevent a harrowing experience. Parker and Kohli share fantastic chemistry which keeps viewers rooting for the characters across their trip, while also understanding how they were driven to leave behind an unfulfilled life and failed suicide attempts.

The changing world is established in little ways, as a news report mentions rising suicide numbers and a radio broadcast involves someone questioning how the afterlife seems preferable to struggling to support one's family. Inhabiting this world are people met along the way, including a priest whose daily walks are motivated by the hope of finding guidance in uncertain times, and a soldier with PTSD who delivers a haunting monologue. These people capture different reactions to this new world while highlighting the importance of forged connections, as the leads grapple with their final days counting down and choose to embrace life within that timeframe.

As the pair face the sources of their hurt and what motivated them to voluntarily end their lives, Elfman avoids the easy routes viewers may expect from more high-profile films. There's no artifice within, just earned emotional beats courtesy of viewers being an additional passenger in this rental car. From interesting beginning to tearful ending, Elfman has crafted an exceptional and life-affirming work highlighting that, no matter how much the past may hurt, a brighter future is achievable.

Next Exit is available on Digital Platforms from 20th February