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In the not-so-distant future, on a planet far, far away, a mother and daughter travel across a hostile landscape with one mission and one mission only: to kill Kate Bush.
Don’t worry, it’s not beloved 1980s singer-songwriter Kate Bush, but a once-dormant evil Polish woman named Katajena Bushovsky now spreading violence and hatred. This is the quest at the center of Bertrand Mandico’s new film “After Blue (Dirty Paradise).”
The film’s title comes from its setting: “After Blue (Dirty Paradise)” is an acid space western set on the planet that comes after Earth (or “Blue,” as they call it), and it is indeed a dirty paradise, though more the former than the latter. After Blue is populated only by women, or so we’re informed, and they hoped to start society anew with greater peace and prosperity. No screens, no machines (though there are guns).
When out playing on the beach with her mean-spirited friends, Roxy (Paula Luna) discovers what looks like a rotting head, but is, in fact, a woman buried in the sand. This is the aforementioned Kate Bush (Agata Buzek), an imprisoned demon-like woman, who Roxy mistakenly frees in an act of kindness. Like a genie, Kate Bush promises to fulfill three wishes of Roxy’s, the first of which being to rid her of her friends. Bush takes this literally: she murders Roxy’s friends and flees.
The liberation of Kate Bush could lead to the decimation of society on After Blue, so Roxy’s mother Zora (cult legend Elina Löwensohn) is tasked with the job of killing Kate before the planet, like Earth, can fall to disarray. Zora takes her daughter, and the two trek across a colorful but unfriendly landscape.
There are plenty of echoes of our contemporary society in “After Blue (Dirty Paradise),” like the guns and androids given nicknames of designer labels. Mostly it is a truly alien society, rich with goop and slime, pink trees and crystals that rise up from the ground. The film looks as though it’s been shot through the popular Huji app: dense with oversaturation and technicolor lensing. This is meant to heighten the strangeness of the world, cheesy as it is, though perhaps After Blue would feel more established with any kind of framing. Roxy and Zora wander, with no route or geographical detail, through highly-decorated sets, meeting other women and sharing stories. Little context is shared; little context is taken. It all might be a dream.
Though there’s room for innovation in a proposed society of all women, this new film from Mandico (“The Wild Boys”) often veers towards the basic and uninteresting male gaze. The journey across After Blue is something of a sexual awakening for Roxy, always distracted by a new creature or fantasy, clad in an outfit just barely staying on her body. For a supposedly peaceful women-led society, the civilians of After Blue are miserable and haggard. Many of the women don black cloaks and witches’ hats as though there was a fire sale at a Halloween store.
For all its provocations, “After Blue (Dirty Paradise)” is rote and tedious. The body horror and gross-outs get repetitive, and none of it ever means much of anything. Even the Kate Bush of it all — a winking nod towards an outside reference — gets old and tiresome. How many times do the characters mention some variation of having to kill or murder her? It makes the “Stranger Things” phenomenon look better by comparison.
Both Roxy and Zora are woefully underwritten, more defined by their outfits than any other trait. Though Roxy is plagued with guilt over the death of her friends (who often appear in dreams to taunt her), that guilt does not lead to any significant change or reflection. A lot of what’s happening in Mandico’s film is innovative and original in theory but unbearable in practice.
“After Blue (Dirty Paradise)” opens in select U.S. theaters June 3.