Spiritual, but not religious. It’s the hot new craze sweeping the millennial generation from what I have gathered by reading a few news stories the other day. While young people have drifted away from organized religion, many of them have not abandoned the belief that there is some force out there guiding the universe. I’m not going to get into religion here. I really don’t have the patience for that. Just do whatever you want and leave me out of it. But, “spiritual, not religious” has always struck me as an interesting phrase. It seems like, to me at least, “spiritual, but not religious” is a way for people to pick and choose from a variety of different belief systems, and form their own. That’s fine. And, in a way, I think WE GO ON is a good, recent example of a “spiritual, but not religious” horror movie.
WE GO ON is the story of Miles Grissom, a video editor in his late 20’s, who takes out a newspaper advertisement offering $30,000 to anyone who can provide him with proof of the afterlife. Miles is accompanied on his quest by his overbearing, hard-edged, atheist mother, Charlotte, played by Annette O’toole. After losing his father at young age, Miles has developed a crippling fear of death, to the point where he won’t even drive himself, so he relies on his mother and public transportation to get him where he needs to go. As someone who has relied heavily on public transportation in the past, I felt the need to jump through the television and tell Miles that this is a bad idea, because public transportation can be terrifying.
I like Miles as a horror movie character though. When we are introduced to him, he comes across like a Woody Allen surrogate that is unknowingly about to be dropped into a supernatural horror movie. He’s neurotic, scared, he gets wrapped up and depressed by the boredom and minutiae of his day job, and he’s also kind of funny. Not on purpose though. He’s just kind of a doof, mostly. There is also streak of dark humor that the film maintains throughout its first half that helps ease a lot of the weighty philosophical debates Miles and his mother engage in; and while these conversations are interesting, they can get heavy-handed as well. But it’s the moments of levity between Miles and Charlotte when I like the characters the most. They are the moments where they feel like mother and son, and it’s a nice way to balance some of the heavier stuff WE GO ON attempts to tackle.
In response to his newspaper advertisement, Miles receives a deluge of responses, which is understandable because he lives in Los Angeles, and thirty-grand is a lot of money. Miles pares the respondents down to three candidates that he believes aren’t just in it for two months’ worth of rent money in Los Angeles: A college professor (John Glover!), a medium, and a rich guy who has traveled the world searching for the same things as Miles. The three meetings mostly end in disappointment, but there is a pretty interesting “meta” aspect to the film that plays out in these meetings. Wait wait… don’t leave. I know, I know, another “meta” horror movie, but I think WE GO ON handles this aspect in an interesting way.
The first meeting revolves around Miles meeting John Glover’s character who attempts to scare Miles into seeing THE GHOST DIMENSION by using a creepy kid. The creepy kid is done up to look like your typical child ghost from a horror movie. Miles doesn’t seem like much of a horror fan, so John Glover probably could have shown him a picture of the Grady twins or something, and saved some time and effort, but whatever. Miles also visits a medium during his journey, and she is reminiscent of about two-hundred characters from one of the million exorcist movies that have been released in the past fifteen years. We never really get to meet the eccentric rich guy for the third meeting, which is a bummer, because he looks really silly and carries around a box that is very similar to the lament configuration. I think the character is a nod to Frank Cotton from HELLRAISER, but I like to think that most characters are a nod to Frank Cotton, so there’s that.
I like the segment of the film that focuses on these meetings the most, because it uses the tropes of horror movies to help Miles come to grips with death and the beyond. That’s what horror is all about, really; Confronting death through art to help a person deal with the fact that you can’t escape it. It’s a fun concept, and the first half of the film handles it in way that feels organic (oh god, organic and meta in the same review. Ugh.), before it drops the idea during its second half.
Following the three meetings, Miles is ready to give up on the endeavor until he receives a mysterious voicemail that promises to show Miles things he will never be able to unsee. From this point forward the movie becomes more of a traditional ghost story as Miles attempts to uncover the mysteries surrounding the call, and the afterlife itself.
WE GO ON is a pretty ambitious movie, especially for what could have just turned out to be a run-of-the mill “ghost bothers a guy” movie. That ambition helps the movie in a lot of ways. As ham-fisted as some of the DEEP philosophical conversations can be, I liked that the movie took the time to talk about them. WE GO ON has a lot on its mind, and it conveys its themes successfully, for the most part. This is a strange thing to say, but WE GO ON’s ambition can work against it as well. Once the ghost story kicks in, the movie, while still pretty good, becomes a more predictable, and also doesn’t quite have the budget to pull off a lot of the supernatural stuff it goes for. The technical side of the film just isn’t what it needs to be for WE GO ON to reach the heights it strives to. If I remember correctly, this a similar problem that I had with the filmmaker’s other movie, YELLOWBRICKROAD. I hope someone gives them some more money someday.
WE GO ON winds up being a pretty interesting take on the standard supernatural thriller. It’s a movie with a ton of ambition; throwing together a ghost story, a Woody Allen movie, some meta stuff, and a few philosophical debates, all of which combine to tell a story about the acceptance of death and loss. That’s pretty “spiritual, but not religious”, I think.