Horrors of the Past, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Returning to your hometown is never easy, especially when it hides a dark secret. Writer/director Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s Aftermath is a riveting drama inspired by actual events. The film involves two estranged brothers unraveling their village’s disturbing past. This mystery takes its time reaching its horrific climax.
Franek (Ireneusz Czop) returns to his family farm in Poland after living in Chicago for 20 years. The farm is run by his brother Józek (Maciej Stuhr), who remains skeptical of Franek for not coming back to their parents’ funeral several years ago. Józek’s wife and kids have left him to visit the United States, and it’s unclear if they will ever return. The residents of the village are furious at Józek for destroying a road, but he has a reason. After the road flooded, several gravestones of deceased Jewish people are discovered. Obsessed, Józek collects the gravestones from the road while it’s under repair before they can be covered up again. He notices several gravestones scattered throughout the village and collects them in a field. As Franek and Józek investigate the horrifying connection between the village and the gravestones, the villagers become more and more hostile.
Czop and Stuhr do a wonderful job at portraying the brothers Franek and Józek. Their characters contrast nicely with each other; Franek is reserved, and Józek is impassioned. As interesting as the family dynamics are, the plot of Aftermath becomes more compelling as each clue to the history of the village is revealed.
The older Rector (Jerry Radziwilowicz) and the younger Priest (Andrzej Mastalerz) have differing attitudes towards the brothers. The Rector gets plenty of moments helping the brothers, but more explanation as to why the Priest is so hostile towards them would have been appreciated.
Although Aftermath has a story revolving around the village’s past, Pasikowski shows great restraint in not showing flashbacks. Instead, most of the reveals come across in two excellent monologues near the end of the film. The revelations are so shocking that the mind does a better job of imagining the horrors than any flashbacks would have conveyed. Much of the imagery has biblical allusions that accentuate the drama on display. It’s not always subtle, but it’s undeniably effective.
The unique story and fantastic acting of Aftermath make for a searing drama about a broken family researching their village’s broken history. This film is well worth your time.