In the near future, a researcher (Karen Gillian, channeling her best Elizabeth Holmes impersonation) has discovered what many believe is definitive proof of life after death. With protests outside her facility’s gates and the government cutting off her funding, she presses forward, sending out a call for volunteers to be euthanized in order to help verify her discovery.
Enter Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli). They each have their own personal reasons for wanting to volunteer to be euthanized For this scientific research, but wanting to volunteer is about the only thing that they share in common. Happenstance throws them together in a rented car, traveling from New York City to the Life Beyond Institute facility in California. The only thing that the two have with them are the few things they’ll need during the car drive there and a much larger load of emotional baggage which will get unpacked as the film progress.
As this is a road movie, Next Exit makes sure to stop at all the expected road trip tropes along the way. We come across the eccentric hitchhiker, played here by Diva Zappa. There are arguments between Rose and Teddy and with people they meet along the way. They have car trouble. There is an awkward visit with a family member of one of the two travelers. Of course, the one time they stop for the night at a hotel, the hotel only has one room which they are forced into sharing. And yes, as in all of these road trip films featuring a mismatched pair of travelers, their relationship will go from not liking each other to the opposite extreme. We’ve seen variations of most of this before, but at least the sameness of it all is offset by the easy chemistry between Parker and Kohli.
The underlying premise of the movie certainly raises some interesting questions, but the movie doesn’t engage with many of them in any deeply significant way. How would the various religions of the world react to the news that yes there is an afterlife when it isn’t readily apparent whose afterlife it is? That is, if even any of them were correct in their beliefs to begin with. The script does a little digging into the idea of the ethicalness of having people volunteer to die as part of the ongoing scientific research into this recently discovered afterlife. This does serve to create tension in the film’s rather unique “Will they or won’t they?” narrative engine. Unfortunately, the road trip template that the film is working from pushes the narrative away from making the more interesting and tough choice instead of the more conventional and pat ending it eventually arrives at.