Review by Cole Groth
Have you wondered what comes after death? Of course you have. The concept of life after death is foundational to religion, and it’s one of those few things in life without true explanation. Angel Studios looks to explain the thought process of what happens after death in their faith-based documentary, After Death, which explores near-death experiences. It does a remarkable job of appearing as a scientific and well-intentioned documentary, and for the most part, it is. Unfortunately, it falls into an agenda by the end and loses a lot of the goodwill it starts with through preachy appeals to Christianity.
After Death gathers dozens of well-documented survivors of near-death experiences. Raymond Moody, Michael Sabom, Don Piper, and Mary Neal make up just a few of the reputable subjects in this documentary. It’s a functionally simple film that brings people together to talk about their near-death experiences, basking in their thought processes. We learn about how common these experiences are, what they can tell us about the human brain, and how the field of psychology has changed because of these experiences.
I’m not particularly religious, so I’m naturally cautious of any faith-based documentary, as they tend to turn into propaganda-ridden and fact-less films. In a medium all about facts, that’s just about the worst thing you can do. Because of this skepticism, I made sure to do some research of my own while watching this. Rest assured, this is a primarily scientific documentary. There’s plenty of research to back up claims of near-death experiences, and with that in mind, it’s mighty interesting. Getting a glimpse into the stories of people who experienced these insane things with a close brush to death opened my eyes to psychology and my views on death.
Each person’s story is recreated with actors. Sometimes, it works pretty well. Other times, it winds up being needless and cheesy. There’s something a little bit stupid about watching a person describe an emotional low in his life — all while some actor overacts in some sappy scene. The portrayals of these out-of-body events are done in a pretty exciting way, though, designed to be trippy and interesting. Overall, the production value can be seen as a mixed bag. Some polish would’ve made it feel more like a theatrical release, rather than a Lifetime-esque crime/thriller.
There’s nothing more annoying than having an agenda pushed on you. If you’re planning on seeing this in a theater, you’re probably already a Christian and will love the come-to-Jesus moments that the interviewees go through. Now, this film doesn’t go as far as to proclaim Jesus as the one and only savior. Similar to Sound of Freedom, while the religious or political motivations may be clear of the creators, it’s not so egregious that only Christians can watch this. There are some interviewees who reveal themselves as hardcore born-again Christians, and these people are easily the weakest ones interviewed. It feels like a bait-and-switch when these people all explain they became Christians after seeing God in the afterlife, and it manages to be a pretty eye-rolling way to end the documentary.
Throughout the credits, the filmmakers beg audiences to participate in a pay-it-forward thing, where you can pay for other people’s tickets. It’s a smart marketing strategy because rich audience members can spend a disproportional amount of money on tickets and let dozens of other people watch the film in a theater. I can’t help but think that the whole thing is a bit of a grift, though. The film isn’t presented to be nearly as important as the subject matter of Sound of Freedom, so why is a huge QR code shown on screen throughout the credits? After Death has a bit of a credibility issue. To be clear, the documentary is still good for the most part, but without the religious stuff, it would’ve been leagues better than the final result.
After Death is playing in theaters now.