By Naomi Roper
The world has changed. Dr Stevenson (Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy) has scientifically proven the existence of life after death. As murder and suicide rates soar Dr Stevenson is looking for participants for her study on life after death. Teddy (Rahul Kohli, Midnight Mass) and Rose (Katie Parker, The Haunting of Bly Manor) are participants in the study willing to be euthanised for the promise of a grand adventure in the next life. Thrown together by accident at the rental car company (she has a license and no credit card, he has a credit card and no license) they become unlikely travelling buddies as they journey towards the institute, Life Beyond, in San Francisco. Teddy wants his life to mean something while Rose is haunted by a spectral figure that won’t let her be. As they start their journey towards a new plane of existence does fate have other plans for them?
Next Exit is a melancholy, grandly romantic, road trip movie featuring stunning performances from Rahul Kohli and Katie Parker. Writer/director Mali Elfman has crafted a delicate, beautiful film all about our yearning for human connection, our capacity for self-destruction and our desperate need to be seen for all that we are, imperfect though it may be. If you are looking for spooky thrills and tons of Karen Gillan this is not that movie. Gillan’s role is an extended cameo and the creepiness, despite some really effective moments isn’t the point of Next Exit. Next Exit is a movie about life – in all its glorious messiness.
Fundamentally a buddy road trip movie at heart Next Exit has a languid pace as we follow Teddy and Rose on their final journey. The visuals are meditative and hypnotic as cityscapes and highways flash by while Rose and Teddy tentatively start to connect to each other and to re-connect to life.
Katie Parker has the trickier of the two roles. Rose starts off as cold and unpleasant and her gentle thawing over the course of the movie is completely convincing. Rose is a haunted woman in every sense. Her self-loathing is so palpable it’s the third presence in the car. She hates herself so fiercely she has no room for any other emotion which is why her fondness for Teddy catches her by surprise.
Rahul Kohli has become the internet’s boyfriend after appearing in Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass and The Haunting of Bly Manor (Parker is also a frequent collaborator with Flanagan having appeared in his criminally underseen Absentia). Kohli’s charming characters in Midnight Mass and Bly Manor coupled with his game tendency to respond to thirst tweets on Twitter have garnered him a legion of fans. If they liked him before wait until they see Next Exit. Kohli is so wonderful as Teddy and so wildly romantic that reader I full-on swooned. (Call me Rahul – I have no idea what those adorable models you’re always making on Twitter are but I’m down for us growing old making models together). Teddy is funny, sweet and an open wound of a man. Riddled with daddy issues and not the success story he always dreamed he would be Teddy is a man at the end of his rope. He just wants…something. And if that means committing assisted suicide so he can be a pioneer so be it. It’s a wonderful performance from Kohli who is an effortlessly charming leading man. Hollywood take note and hire this man!
The acting is great across the board. Rose and Teddy run into a cast of colourful characters as they make their way to San Francisco- a priest (Tongayi Chirisa) hoping for a road to Damascus moment, a man in a bar haunted by ghosts (Tim Griffin), Karma (Diva Zappa) who shows Teddy a meteor shower and Rose’s sister (Rose McIver re-uniting with Kohli having previously starred with him in iZombie). They’re all such beautifully crafted moments, each the hero in their own story.
The chemistry between Kohli and Parker is electric and the ending feels completely earned.
Next Exit is a fiercely romantic ghost story and a phenomenal feature debut from writer/director Mali Elfman which cements Rahul Kohli’s leading man status.
Next Exit screened at the Fantasia Film Festival and Magnolia Pictures has acquired North American rights to the movie and is looking at a theatrical debut in November.