‘Next Exit’ (2022) Is An Existential Journey With One Too Many Detours

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“Often finds itself lost in the ambitiousness of its concept”

Life is full of countless questions, including whether or not it’s ultimately all there is— or if perhaps there’s something more that lies ahead afterwards, something that remains mysterious and unknowable until it is inevitably reached. This is the very idea Mali Elfman’s directorial feature debut Next Exit chooses to explore, taking a supernatural approach to these existential queries that offers a glimpse into one such possibility. The film begins by showing a young boy playing a card game with his father’s ghost, and posits the idea that suicide rates around the world have spiked significantly since this phenomena was caught on camera. It is explained that in response to such a groundbreaking event, Dr. Stevensen (Karen Gillan) launched a research program called Life Beyond said to help facilitate its participants’ journeys into the afterlife, the ethics of which are seen as dubious by the government.

A still of Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) from 'Next Exit'. They are seen outside walking down a ramp and into a modern white building emblazoned with the text "LIFE BEYOND" and a black and white semicircle logo.
Image courtesy of Blue Finch Film Releasing

When the film introduces protagonists Teddy (Rahul Kohli) and Rose (Katie Parker), they are both headed to San Francisco, begrudgingly finding themselves forced to share a rental car for the drive down. However, their road trip is hardly a conventional one since they have been selected to partake in Life Beyond, meaning that this trip will also be their last. Teddy is excited about the prospect, feeling that his involvement will make his life mean something important. Rose — who is adamant about going by her middle name instead of her unfortunate first name of “Blossom” — isn’t looking to make her life matter in any significant way; rather, she just doesn’t want to exist in this world. With completely different outlooks toward life, the two set out on their journey to what is presumably the end of theirs. But while the film’s premise is an intriguing one, it falls short of being able to be fully realized through Elfman’s script. This is because Next Exit often finds itself lost in the ambitiousness of its concept, taking several detours throughout that cause it to lose momentum. There are many moments when it feels as though its tone and pacing have been comfortably established, only to have this derailed by frequent location changes or the introduction of one-off characters who seemingly don’t serve much purpose.

That said, Next Exit is undeniably at its best when it allows the audience to spend time with its two leads. Kohli and Parker have excellent chemistry, and the dynamic between their characters gradually evolves in a way that feels organic and compelling. As Teddy and Rose go from being complete strangers to unexpectedly welcome travel companions, they trade stories of multiple suicide attempts, play a raucous game of “Never Have I Ever,” and divulge their deepest traumas to one another. Their early moments together often have a darkly humorous undertone to them too; in one particularly comical scene, the two argue over whether or not a dead body on the road should be known as “Dead Jack” or “Dead Joe”. Parker especially is outstanding in her portrayal of Rose, whose vulnerable guilt is evident even beneath her apathy and sarcastic quips. She is also responsible for some of the film’s most emotional moments, including its especially poignant climax, which really allows her the chance to shine.

A still of Rose (Katie Parker) in 'Next Exit'. She stands on an open road with blue sky behind her, and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) is out of focus in the background.
Image courtesy of Blue Finch Film Releasing

It is also worth mentioning that Next Exit’s director happens to be the daughter of famed composer Danny Elfman, who has famously contributed haunting scores to such films as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Given this familial connection, it is unsurprising then to learn that Elfman is also behind the score for Next Exit, his instrumentals creating an appropriately eerie ambiance throughout. Despite toying with the idea of ghosts and the afterlife as physical manifestation in its meandering runtime of almost two hours, the film arguably tends to veer more into the lane of melodrama than horror. By the time Next Exit finally reaches its end, its audience and characters alike are left with more questions than answers. While this lack of clarity is undoubtedly frustrating, it is also oddly appropriate for a film that grapples with such heady, existential concepts, leaving audiences with the thought that maybe there’s more to life than knowing the intricate mysteries of what comes next.

Next Exit is on digital platforms 20 February

Dir: Mali Elfman

Prod: No Traffic For Ghosts, Helmstreet Productions

Cast: Rahul Kohli, Katie Parker

Release Date: 2022

Available on: Various digital platforms