After Hours

After Hours ★★★½

"This isn't Colombian"

A relentless torrent of Kafkaesque nightmares. This was advertised to me as a comedy. A fucking comedy. Taking place over the course of one night that at one moment appears grounded in reality, the film escalates into a cartoonish odyssey that defies explanation, rationale or any sort of meaning or purpose. It's deeply cynical, especially towards relationships and New York, but manages to be so in a playful and amusing way. But there is nothing seemingly meant to be gleamed from this experience. It's simply trial by existence. Is it wrong place-wrong time? Is it existential judgment? A madhouse drug trip from an unreliable narrator? Who knows. It's all those things, and none. The only thing we can be sure it is is an exercise in storytelling and cinematics. The camera, while not as refined and elegant as the over-the-top movements in CASINO, is unhinged and wild with a script that relies heavily on coincidence but also absurdism. Absurdism, when done right, is deeply hilarious, unsettling and satisfying all at once. Think of movies like POSSESSION, HAUSU, or even (in some ways) THE ROOM. AFTER HOURS also hinges on the absurdism of its characters, a series of blondes whose explosive spontaneity and unpredictability transform them from lustful to aggressors in a matter of moments, and often without a discernible reason. So much of this movie exists on its fringes, where it drops bread crumbs (constant mention of burns, off-screen weeping, mentions of other people's nights) without ever actually following up on any of them. Instead, it sweeps off to the next thing and eventually neatly comes back to little, insignificant moments it set up earlier. Even Paul flips a switch the moment he takes a puff from a joint that declares "isn't even weed", and really it's from that moment that this trip begins. Teases of his unreliability as a narrator (the scar that becomes a tattoo) suggest this is more in his head than the film lets on, but we can't ever really be sure. Ebert said once that a film is only what it shows us, and nothing more. Part of the genius of AFTER HOURS is that what it shows us is debatable, and it shows so much with such rigorous force and energy that we can't even be sure of what we saw, and therefore what this film even is.

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