After Image

I have seen hundreds upon hundreds of movies in my day, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film in which so little happens as in “After Image.” It contains not one coherent thought: It’s an alleged thriller that is not only devoid of thrills, but that doesn’t even seem to be trying, coming off as completely emotionless even when major stuff is happening.

“After Image” stars John Mellencamp — formerly ’80s rock star John “Cougar” Mellencamp — as Joe, a crime-scene photographer who opens the film by providing us this narration: “Where does it come from, this thing that haunts us?” That’s a bad enough line, but Mr. Cougar’s twangy delivery and elfin little face make it worse. He’s a continual blight on the film all the way through, demonstrating no acting skill whatsoever. (In the opening scene, he’s supposedly so bothered by the images that confront him that he wants to quit his job. But darned if you can get that from the look on his face or the tone of his voice.)

Running circles around him, acting-wise, is Terrylene, a deaf actress who plays a deaf woman named Lora. Lora’s been having creepy premonitions that turn out to be tied in with a series of murders Joe has had to photograph.

We know up front who the murderer is. The film doesn’t tell us his name (though the production notes insist it does); it’s Rye (Michael Zelniker), and his motives are … um, the movie doesn’t tell us, and the production notes are silent on this point, too. All we know is, he kills young girls and videotapes it. Does he send the videotapes to the authorities in a creepy game of cat-and-mouse? No, we’re not even afforded that cliche. All he does is watch them at home, eventually sending a copy to Joe and advancing the plot not one iota.

I’m also going to mention Joe’s old Aunt (Louise Fletcher), who not only doesn’t have a name in the movie, but doesn’t get one in the production notes, either. She’s old and dying, and she raised Joe and Joe’s now-crazy-for-unexplained-reasons brother Sammy (Billy Burke). Sammy serves no purpose in this film. Seriously: You could cut out his scenes altogether and not affect the movie in any way.

(The production notes inform us that Sammy’s “daily conversations with [his] cats provide a strange parallel to the paranormal occurrences among Lora, Joe, and Rye.” This is a bald-faced lie. Sammy has cats, and can occasionally be seen speaking to them the way people normally speak to their pets, but that’s as far as it goes. No conversations, and certainly no parallels to anything else.)

The film trudges along at a remarkably slow pace. All emotions are muted, and there is almost no plot to speak of. No twists and turns, no surprises, no action. Lots of style and lots of weird imagery, but not a bit of meaning. One almost thinks it was done as a joke, to see if someone could make a movie about a serial killer in which nothing ever happens. Well, they did it, all right, and the joke’s on us.

D- (; R, abundant nudity, some harsh profanity, a lot of disturbing crime-scene images.)