Directed by: #SumanHanif
Written by: #SumanHanif
Great filmmaking can often be the result of imposed limitations. Right now, there is no bigger limitation than lockdown – the result of which has been a total reimagining of how films must be created in 2021. What Next? is an admirable project created entirely at the homes of its stars and completed fully under lockdown conditions. However, it falls short of providing the key basic ingredients – engaging characters and story – to be more than a novelty project.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, Laibah (director Suman Hanif) has been experiencing some odd occurrences at her home. Concerned, she video-calls her friend Adam (Ahmed Sher Zaman) to figure out what might be happening. Initially dismissive of her experiences, Adam begins to worry whether Laibah’s old battles with drink and drugs may be getting the best of her again. But there is more to the events than meets the eye…
What Next? was produced and created under strict social distancing regulations – and viewed in this context it is an impressive short film. The production quality is strong, with the directors’ experience with filming providing a professional and crisp presentation despite being a homemade project. Hanif provides different viewpoints to the audience for Laibah and Adam – the latter being shown exclusively on zoom – which is effective in isolating the audience in the room with Laibah in order to feel her anxiety. Sepia-soaked scenes recapping the bizarre events she experienced are also suitably creepy and unnerving. The film does fall short with its sound production when dialogue spoken over the phone is featured – and some pivotal conversations are difficult to hear because of this.
The plot is rather weak with no real explanation or resolution, and character development is cast aside in lieu of predictable and worn-out twists. Laibah has supposedly left home to escape her former life and overcome her demons, but this is not made clear until it is awkwardly brought up by Adam – a close friend. His switch from light-hearted scepticism to frustrated concern is the only natural development for either character, and it is quickly swept away by a cliff-hanger twist ending that is unsatisfactory and seemingly in place as an attempt at shock value.
The film also does not effectively put across its key themes – which appear to be the impact of isolation and the inability to cope with trauma. Laibah’s loosening grip on reality is the prime plot thread but the events she experiences seem to have no consistent link beyond their apparent supernatural nature. The film was fully produced in lockdown but does not utilise this setting to its fullest in its plot – old tropes such as moving toys and imaginary neighbours have been done to death and lose impact without an overarching threat to reinforce their creepiness. It is never made clear exactly WHAT Laibah should be afraid of. Without this, strange events are, well, just strange events.
What Next? is impressive in the context of its creation, and is another example of filmmakers persevering in difficult circumstances to utilise new and innovative methods to tell their stories. But those stories do not automatically match the accomplishment of the film’s development. Unfortunately for What Next? it falls far short of its ambition and would have benefitted from a more refined plot and better developed themes.