REVIEW – ‘After We Collided’ is as dull and lifeless as its predecessor

Unless you find yourself in a certain target demographic, you’re possibly blissfully unaware of the 2019 teen soap opera romance flick that was Away. Based on Anna Todd‘s popular 2014 young-adult novel that was inspired by One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles, the film was a moderate commercial success, grossing $70 million on a budget of just $14 million. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the hastily-organised sequel After We Collided clearly isn’t meant for you. And it’s unlikely it’s inherently meant for me either.

That being said, I’ve managed to enjoy all manner of YA film adaptations in the two decades since I last called myself a teenager. For all its many follies, I found the Twilight saga to be a strangely enjoyable guilty pleasure. I cheered for Katniss Everdeen through all four films in The Hunger Games franchise. And films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Love, Simon, and The Fault in Our Stars made me all sorts of weepy.

I may be ancient to a teenager, but, hopefully, that doesn’t disqualify my thoughts on whatever latest fad film franchise they’re currently going crazy for. That being said, I’m left entirely perplexed by the allure of something like After We Collided. As dull and lifeless as its predecessor, this sequel so achingly wants to be this generation’s Cruel Intentions they hired Roger Kumble to direct this flat follow-up. But Hardin Scott is no Sebastian Valmont and the only thing dangerous about this liaison is its baffling continuance with romanticising a toxic relationship.

Picking up one month after the events of the first film, After We Collided finds our two star-crossed lovebirds living separate lives. Tessa (Josephine Langford) has just commenced a coveted internship with publishing powerhouse Vance Publishing, where she’s tasked with reading manuscripts for her domineering boss Christian Vance (Charlie Weber) and playfully flirts with her straight-laced co-worker Trevor (an oddly-robotic Dylan Sprouse).

Meanwhile, Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) is struggling with Tessa’s refusal to forgive his crushing betrayal. His numerous texts begging forgiveness have gone unanswered, leading to another tattoo (some barbed wire to really highlight that inner torment) added to his assortment of body art. Hardin refuses any anesthesia during the tattooing process (“I like the pain.”) because, you know, that’s what bad boys do. And he’s still insisting on being decked out exclusively in black clothes because, just like Lego Batman, he only works in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.

Over the course of the next 105 excruciating minutes, Tess and Hardin seemingly get back together and break up at least half a dozen times, all the while hopping into bed with each other whenever the mood strikes. There’s also a semi-love triangle with Trevor, a visit from Hardin’s mother, Trish (Louise Lombard), and a dash of Hardin’s unsolved familial issues with his estranged father, Ken (Rob Estes replacing Peter Gallagher, who clearly had better things to do) and his new wife, Karen (Karimah Westbrook replacing Jennifer Beals). Thankfully, Hardin’s vapid group of college “friends” only appear briefly here.

As hard as After We Collided bumblingly attempts to create any shred of tension or conflict within its narrative, it’s little more than an hour and a half of witnessing one of the most toxic and emotionally damaging relationships ever committed to film. It feels wrong to even call this movie a “romance,” unless your idea of a romantic connection is seeing a possessive, jealous, and insecure playboy manipulate and mistreat a poor, young lass who deserves so much better.

Sexual chemistry is one thing, but trying to paint that as “love” is so horrendously misguided and downright dangerous. It sends a god-awful message to young women that if the sex is mind-blowing, it doesn’t matter how he treats you outside the bedroom. The sequel ramps up the raunch with an endless stream of sex scenes and occasional nudity, but they’re choreographed in genuinely unappealing fashion. There’s a randy romp in a bathroom that may be the unsexiest shower scene since Psycho.

It’s abundantly clear Hardin Scott is cast as the Edward Cullen of this franchise, with a mean temper to match his constant pouting face. But Cullen was an enigmatic creature with layers audiences were dying to unfold. Hardin is about as deep as a puddle. As talented as Fiennes Tiffin may be, there’s very little depth to a character who constantly seems to be at an 11 on the anger scale. It doesn’t help the poor actor is saddled with barking out nauseating dialogue that lacks any true authenticity and is little more than one tired cliché after another.

The same issue befalls Langford’s performance, with the actor trying her utmost to elevate Tessa beyond the hapless victim in need of a good wakeup call. But there’s so little for her to grab on to, especially as Tessa continually makes numerous confounding character decisions. Just when you think she’s turning a corner and taking control of her life, Tessa gives in to Hardin’s charms and takes two giant steps back on her road to independence. As a protagonist who loves the work of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, she could learn a thing or two from the literary heroines found in their classic tales.

For a film that only runs a touch over 100 minutes, After We Collided is a tedious slog. There’s barely any levity or fun to be had here and it’s genuinely difficult to remain invested in a film that relentlessly attempts to glamourise an abusive relationship. There’s a shallow superficiality to this love story that consistently ignores the toxicity masculinity permeating through practically every scene. Personally, I found it all rather repugnant. However, if you loved the first film, there’s a high chance you’ll be equally enamoured with the sequel.

Distributor: Roadshow
Cast: Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Dylan Sprouse, Shane Paul McGhie, Candice King, Khadijha Red Thunder, Inanna Sarkis, Samuel Larsen, Selma Blair
Director: Roger Kumble
Producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Nicolas Chartier, Anna Todd, Aron Levitz, Courtney Solomon, Mark Canton, Brian Pitt
Screenplay: Anna Todd, Mario Celaya
Cinematography: Larry Reibman
Production Design: Lynne Mitchell
Costume Design: Meagan McLaughlin
Music: Justin Burnett

Editing: Anita Brandt-Burgoyne
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: 10th September 2020 (Australia)