When the trailer for a low budget film called After Last Season debuted on websites last March many people assumed it was a prank. More specifically, rumors started doing the Internet rounds that the trailer was the work of director Spike Jonze and was part of a viral marketing campaign for his forthcoming adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are, which opens Oct. 16.
Jonze certainly enjoys a good joke. The filmmaker co-produced and appeared in both Jackass movies and once picked up an MTV Award in the guise of a fictional choreographer named “Richard Koufey.” And the trailer does look like some kind of gag. The footage features a star-free cast flatly reciting dull, disconnected dialogue in spartanly-decorated rooms. One part of the trailer consists of a man announcing down the phone, “They’ve got, uh, printers in the basement you can use.” The footage also boasts some extremely basic special effects and an MRI scanner that appears to be covered in paper. It also fails to indicate whether the movie is a comedy, a drama, or a horror film. Further deepening the mystery, the trailer’s credits claim that the film was directed by an unknown director with the pseudonymous-sounding name of Mark Region.
Among those intrigued by the After Last Season trailer was Chicago-based cartoonist and weird film fan John Campbell. “Me and some of my friends keep an eye out for strange trailers, and this one blew us away,” he says. “The dialogue choices — it just blows your mind that these could be the most interesting lines in the movie. People assumed pretty quickly that it was some viral thing. I had my doubts that it was a real movie.” Those doubts were shared by Michael Rousselet, a screenwriter, co-creator of 5secondfilms.com, and another admirer of strange cinema. “I was dumbfounded,” says Rousselet. “It was so bizarre. The way the trailer ended: ‘Oh, yeah, the copiers are down in the basement.’ I just thought, ‘What the f— was that?’ But what really sold it for me was that one of the clips on the film’s website cut off in mid-sentence.”
One Internet conspiracy theorist, inspired by the fact that Mark Ruffalo’s character in Where The Wild Things Are is unnamed on the imdb.com, hypothesized that the actor’s role in the movie is that of a director named “Mark Region” and that After Last Season was some sort of film-within-a-film. Many agreed with Campbell that the movie might not actually exist outside the trailer. However, this theory was disproved when the film opened on June 5 for a one-week run in four locales (Lancaster, Calif., North Aurora, Ill., Rochester, N.Y., Austin, Tex.). Campbell and a group of friends drove an hour and a half to see the movie in Aurora. He also designed a t-shirt for the occasion, which featured an illustrated map of a basement and an arrow pointing towards the “printers you can use.”
The cartoonist says that the film did not disappoint in terms of weirdness. “The wonderful thing about the movie is that the majority of the dialogue is exactly like the stuff that’s in the trailer” he explains. “It’s people having these inane conversations about nothing. There’s no way to tell from the trailer but, in the movie, there’s a murderer. It’s some kind of existential murder-mystery….Oh gosh, it’s really difficult to sum up in any useful way.”
While Campbell may have difficulty summing up the film, he has no problem adding up how many other people were at the screening. “There was one other person in the cinema, and he was seeing it for the second time,” says he cartoonist. “I think he also came from the city. I guess his rationalization was that he might as well try to figure out what the hell just happened.” Meanwhile, Michael Rousselet traveled from Los Angeles to Lancaster to see the film. “It was amazing,” he reports. “It was definitely worth the drive and the ticket price for the first 15 minutes of laughing. It’s the only film where the background out-acts the actors. They made an MRI machine out of, like, butcher paper! The whole film just blindsided me. I did enjoy it, thought I don’t know if I would actually watch it again.”
So is the movie a gigantic prank? “For the first 15 minutes of the film, I really thought it could have been some huge in-joke,” Rousselet says. “But, if it is a prank, it will probably be the greatest prank I’ve ever known.” Rumors that the movie is a joke are so strong that even cast members themselves have begun to wonder if maybe they are unwitting pawns in some Spike Jonze-overseen marketing chess game. “I saw the crazy conspiracy theory rumors out there, and I even discussed them with some of the actors from the production going, ‘What do you think?’” says Jason Kulas, the film’s lead actor and utterer of the “printers-in-the-basement” line.
Kulas does admit that “Mark Region” probably is not the real name of the director who he says is of Asian descent (“Mark Region” declined to be interviewed for this piece.) But the actor also insists that ultimately, he doesn’t believe “there was some secret creative force at work” on the film and, as far as he is concerned, “it has nothing to do with Spike Jonze.” In fact, a spokesman for Warner Bros., who are releasing Where The Wild Things Are, told EW via email that “The Spike camp knows nothing about” After Last Season and that it is “not a viral Wild Things movie.”
That’s bad news for conspiracy theorists. But the Internet hoo-ha could yet be good for After Last Season which, says Jason Kulas, may be re-released to cinemas at a later date. The actor, for one, likes the idea of the movie becoming a so-dementedly-weird-it’s-awesome cult classic along the lines of Plan From Outer Space and, more recently, The Room.
“I’m an actor with aspirations” says Kulas. “I’ve done, like, 20 films. But they’re all low-budget/no-budget kind of things. So I’m happy with anything that helps me. If people like it for their own reasons, that’s fine by me. And if it helps me, even better!”