Shame and prejudice
This is a bad franchise. Not bad in the "people love to dump on pop culture that was designed for a female audience because they're trained to hate girly things" way. Bad in the "this is such a tragically demented relationship that it makes Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey look like models of proper communication, and it's depicted in a way that simultaneously pushes the envelope of bland competence while being excruciatingly painful to witness" way. So of course I was excited for the third film, After We Fell, which has such an epically fucked production and distribution history I couldn't not be interested. After We Fell was filmed in Bulgaria back to back with the fourth film (get ready, folks), but pandemic travel restrictions required the filmmaking team to recast essentially every role except for the two leads, including featuring Mira Sorvino (taking over for the franchise's other "really, she's in this?" casting coup, Selma Blair) in a ten-second flashback that I'm pretty sure doesn't even feature her in close-up. If Sorvino's agent is found dead after a mysterious accident, you know why.
I could have reviewed After We Fell during its theatrical run in early October, but that wouldn't have been fair for everyone who wanted to rush out and see it, because it came to U.S. theaters as a two-day-only Fathom event. You know, like all good movies do. Now that it's on VOD for an actually reasonable price (by that I mean it's no longer $20, and not that it's worth any amount of money one pays for it), let's dig in!
After We Fell picks up - well, I want to say it picks up where After We Collided leaves off, but frankly I shoved that movie out of my brain so I don't remember. It picks up in medias res at any rate, as hapless lit student Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) has her estranged deadbeat father Richard (Atanas Srebrev, taking over for Stefan Rollins) show up on her doorstep. The idea that she might have a tortured relationship with a second alcoholic perturbs her violently jealous boyfriend Hardin (Hero Beauregard Faulkner Fiennes Tiffin, full names only please). They have just gotten back together after he vanished from her life without a trace for nine full days, so things are delicate right now.
He takes her dad out to a bar and they get in a brawl and Hardin gets mad that Tessa gets mad, explaining that he was "defending her honor." Then they fuck with an ice cube and it makes it better. Then he gets mad that she took a job in Seattle because he wants her to move to London with him even though he never told her this. Also she admits that she had a crush on Dylan Sprouse for two seconds when she and Hardin were broken up, and he will be working at the same company as her when she moves, apparently, even though he's not in the movie and is never mentioned again. Then they fuck in a hot tub and it makes it better. Then he gets mad that she ordered pasta from a hot waiter and attempts to make her jealous by going out with another girl, then gets mad when she does the same thing by hanging out with the waiter after hours. They don't fuck this time, so things get worse. After she moves to Seattle, they're walking on eggshells, until a nightmare vision of the waiter eating her out compels Hardin to actually go visit her, the impetus every good boyfriend needs to visit their partner. They fight about the dream, but they fuck in a gym and it makes it better! Then some random drama happens involving characters who I only foggily remember in the first place who have been recast to make it even more confusing to parse them out.
I will commend the film for drawing its inspiration from Italian neo-realism, presenting us with a series of events plucked from the lives of these characters with no particular start and end point and no arc in between. We really are a fly on the wall of a random assemblage of psychotic behavior and emotional manipulation that is totally OK because Hardin has tattoos and knows how to work a penis.
I will say that, in the sex scenes, which are the real reason this movie exists, this entry does give in and embrace the Fifty Shades-lite vibes that caused the books to be such an inexplicable success. This means that she is still fully clothed while his ass is hidden behind a comforter, but at least the things they're implied to be doing seem pretty hot. The ice cube scene also includes several close-ups of ice slowly melting on skin that are actually aesthetically pleasing! Also, the way Hardin has the magical ability to spirit a condom out of thin air no matter where they are provides the film with one of its few glimmers of bad-good camp. One of those other glimmers is that literally every time they have sex, one of their parents is within at least 100 feet of them.
Other than the added wrinkle of the new cast, this movie is exactly like the other two, except it's even worse about pretending there is a narrative or stakes, or a tone other than depressed drudgery. At one point, Tessa fishes her panties out of a hot tub while Hardin's half-brother (Chance Perdomo, taking over for Shane Paul McGhie) watches with judgment in his eyes, and the music swings straight into Van Wilder territory like it's trying to trick us into thinking we've been watching a movie with a sense of humor this whole time.
While it is by a hair the worst film in the franchise, After We Fell also infuriatingly refuses to allow the filmmaking to sink to the level of the script, which would make it much more fun to watch. The camera always keeps things in focus and holds to its consistently bland color palette. Langford and Hero Beauregard Faulkner Fiennes Tiffin continue to avoid giving completely dead-eyed performances as well, though their characters' vigorous anti-chemistry continues to run rampant. I had my attention drawn away from their drama by a box of "Crackle Flakes" cereal on their counter multiple times.
I do wonder what they taste like, though.
Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. He's a former host of the Attack of the Queerwolf podcast and a current senior movie/TV news writer at Screen Rant. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter or Letterboxd, if you feel like it.