Meshes Of The After: Review

Meshes Of The After: Review

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

  • W.C. Fields

“Meshes of the After” is an “alternate reading” of a highly influential short film from 1943, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s “Meshes of the Afternoon”, which took a reasonably mundane situation and twisted, distorted and folded it in on itself to create a nightmarish vision of the feminine, the domestic and mental illness. It is considered a high watermark of surrealist American cinema, and has gone on to influence a number of filmmakers, most prominent among them likely being David Lynch.

By stripping this earlier film of its context and meaning, and neglecting to build on its stunning innovation, directors Case & Porter have essentially developed a near shot-for-shot exercise in empty aestheticism, with neon gels and a flawless commercial sheen standing in for originality, ending up not looking and feeling unlike Vance Joy’s “Riptide” music video. 

The film ostensibly follows a young woman returning home after picking up a flower and witnessing a shadowy figure pass her by. As she falls asleep inside, she starts to see the figure in her dreams, and repeats similar actions as doubles and triples of herself begin to stack up. The dream world eventually folds into reality, leaving the viewer, and our lead, unsure of what way is up, both psychologically and literally. 

It could be argued that the original was a reaction to the state of realist American cinema, as well as the burgeoning middle class and the new psychological issues it would bring with it, but I run into some issues justifying why and how this remake relates to the contemporary experience. If there is a renewed relevance in the modern world, why use the same rotary phone as a prop, for example? The same record player? This strips the domestic meaning of the items, and they instead just exist as near pointless objects, empty beyond visual stimulation. It feels like there is a quirky, day-glo phone in the film because it looks cool and there was one in the original, or a knife not because it carries the bubbling menace of suicidal ideation and domestic ennui, but because, well, someone’s gotta carry a knife. It feels lazy and irrelevant.

You could say I didn’t “get it”, but I’m really not sure about that. The film came with a short artist’s statement, which seems to rehash a lot of what made the original special; Case & Porter mention the “modulating presence of recurring domestic objects” and the “illumination of the undulating and malleable experience of the meta-physical”, which are definitely present in Derrin and Hammid’s work, as the perspective of the camera shifts in and out of subjectivity and objectivity, creating a menacing unease. In 1943, exploring the subjective experience of the psyche was groundbreaking and rife with meaning. In 2022, reheating those same ideas without the meaning to marry it to leaves the film feeling limp. 

It is unreasonable to compare the two films as separate entities considering how closely they mirror each other. If you wish to see a piece of cinematic history, I would highly recommend checking out the original and understanding its place not only in film, but in the broader context of 1940s America. As for the remake, while visually colourful and clean, I really find it difficult to justify why a short like this exists, beyond that it will help Case & Porter get advertising gigs. But hey, who am I to judge? Rent in Brooklyn is steep. 

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Daniel is a Sydney-based writer and filmmaker. He likes to think of himself as a man of letters - mostly of the furious, "to the editor" variety.