Katie Parker Talks Next Exit and Finding Meaning in the Face of Death

Dec 31, 2022

Katie Parker has mastered a kind of fragile beauty in the characters she sometimes plays, as if there’s a sublime radiance buried beneath stratums of pain just waiting to shine through. Her first film, Absentia, was also filmmaker Mike Flanagan’s first big breakthrough, a harrowing horror about a woman investigating the disappearance of her sister’s husband. Parker’s character is drawn deeper into the abstract, nightmarish truth, and her perfect performance introduced one of the most underrated actors working today.

A decade later, Parker has teamed up with two other frequent Flanagan friends, actor Rahul Kohli and producer Mali Elfman, in Elfman’s feature film directorial debut, Next Exit. It’s a somewhat indescribable movie, blending dystopian science fiction with road trip comedy and dark, intelligent family drama, the kind of picture that resists easy labeling. Next Exit exists in a world in which the afterlife is somewhat scientifically proven, leading to an existential crisis of meaning worldwide.
Parker plays Rose, a woman guarded against others by her own self-loathing, who joins Teddy (a funny but complex Kohli) on a road trip to an institution that studies the afterlife by performing assisted suicide on willing participants. As these two volunteers drive toward death, they open up to each other in a film that explores some heavy, thoughtful themes in a surprisingly entertaining way. Parker spoke with MovieWeb about Next Exit and its themes of meaning, death, and the afterlife.

Mali Elfman Unites Good Friends in Next Exit

Magnet Releasing

As previously mentioned, Parker remains one of the frequent collaborators with director Mike Flanagan (and she’ll be starring alongside Kohli again in their upcoming series The Fall of the House of Usher), and Elfman has produced some of his projects. Parker explained how Next Exit all came together as an organic byproduct of everyone’s relationships (and Elfman’s great script).

“I think Mali and Mike met at a film festival when her film Do Not Disturb [which Elfman co-wrote and co-produced] and Absentia were doing the festival route, and that maybe was in 2010. Mali was producing a film that I was attached to do, so we became friends through that,” recalled Parker. “She had shared with me a lot of her poetry that she had written, and she had been producing for a long time. And I was like, ‘You know, you’re a great writer. You’re such a boss when you’re producing. Why don’t you direct?’ And she’s acted before! I think actors make incredible directors because they know the process. And she said, ‘Well, funnily enough, I have the script.'”

Related: Next Exit Review: A Thoughtful, Clever Road Trip Through Death and Regret

“I read it and I initially was really nervous about Rose. She asked me to play Rose, and I thought, oh no, I can’t do that. Because she was so complicated. I was worried that maybe I wasn’t the right choice for it, or maybe I just didn’t want to go there,” continued Parker. It’s true, Rose is not only a complicated character but exists in a dark headspace that could be difficult to inhabit; she’s a woman caught in a cycle of shame, regret, self-destruction, and alienation, driving with determination to her own appointment with suicide. “But out of everybody Mali could have asked, she was like, ‘No, I really want you to do it. I really think you have something that you’re going to bring to her that I really want to see.'”

Next Exit Was Katie Parker’s Favorite Film Experience

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Next Exit is a unique reunion of sorts for friends who have mutual artistic respect and yet haven’t had too much of a chance to actually work together; the result is a film with intimate, palpable chemistry. “With Rahul, I had known him socially through iZombie’s Rose McIver, who plays my sister in Next Exit. She and I are really good friends, we used to live together,” said Parker. “So I knew all of them socially, but we had never worked together. And I have to say that working with Mali and Rahul was maybe the best professional experience I’ve ever had. Of course, I like working with Mike Flanagan, because we’ve been together from the beginning, but it’s cool to have such a tight friendship with someone and then to work professionally.”

It may seem ironic that one of Parker’s best professional experiences is making a movie about death and suicide, but Next Exit is so much more than that because it isn’t really suicide that these characters are after, but rather whatever’s next. The film explores the human relationship with mortality, the concept of the afterlife, and the ways in which we can find meaning in this life regardless of what happens next. It’s the kind of film which prompts a lot of metaphysical, stoner-style abstract thinking, but in positive and socially constructive ways, and it’s had Parker discussing these themes at length.

“In the last interview I was doing, we were sort of talking about this death and rebirth theme, and how uncomfortable people are with death, especially in American culture. We know when something’s born, it will die. It’s awful to say, but when a baby’s born, we know it’s gonna die at some point, and that might be when they’re 100 or that could be the next day. We just don’t know. And I think what this film captures is that conversation around death,” said Parker. “It’s not necessarily suicide. It’s just — when are you going to die? And when are you going to be reborn?”

Katie Parker on Death and the Hope of Rebirth

Magnet Releasing

While Next Exit wisely refrains from giving spiritual or philosophical conclusions about death and the afterlife, it does prompt the question and emotionally explore it through Parker and Kohli’s characters. So when Parker says “reborn,” she doesn’t necessarily mean a karmic reincarnation. “That could be a metaphysical experience. I personally think we’re dying and being reborn all the time, through our relationships, through our jobs, through someone else’s death. You are always coming out physically, physiologically, a different human on the other side. Cellularly, we’re different every seven years.” Parker explained:

I think that is more Rose’s journey. I think she’s really uncomfortable with living, because she’s so uncomfortable in herself, and she thinks the easy way out is to just end it in this form. I think the film also has a spiritual message — you are going to go on, it’s just going to be something different. And I think that comforts Rose a lot, and I don’t think she really sees it as ‘I’m ending my life through suicide.’ I think she just can’t deal with her own traumas and pain. Maybe it’s going to be different on the other on the other side.

Related: Exclusive: Rahul Kohli on His New Film Next Exit, Mike Flanagan, and Our Godless Universe

“I get it though,” admitted Parker who, like all of us, lives in a world hurdling toward environmental disaster and increasing political unrest due to a history of owners subjugating workers. “Especially with where we’re headed right now, with the rich being way up here and the poor being here, and the middle class just not existing. “If somebody is given an opportunity to be like, hey, it’s going to be different elsewhere, wouldn’t you take that opportunity? It’s a really honest approach to a false reality. But that was kind of the point Mali was making politically with the movie. It’s a very small point, but in just creating that world, is it really that crazy for somebody to make that choice?”

Next Exit Spurs Very Deep Thoughts in Parker and Viewers Alike

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Next Exit has a tendency to interrogate each viewer’s own meaning-making process. “It’s been interesting how people latch on to it, and then ask us questions about it. But it’s more about what it’s bringing up for you. It’s not what we think, it’s more like what is that triggering in you?” asked Parker.

For Parker personally, so much of Next Exit relates to her own gradual process of finding peace (dare we say ‘meaning’) in the world. As it will with most audiences, Next Exit greets Parker where she is and invites her to contemplate her own relationship to life, death, and her character Rose. “I think if you’re spiritually sick, it’s hard to find meaning in the monotony of the day-to-day, so I’ve found it really important to have a higher power. For me, it’s not like a big white dude in the sky with a beard. It’s something even bigger than that, it’s something I can’t explain.” Parker beautifully laid it bare:

There’s sort of a trust and this universal pull that I have that helps me to keep going. [Sometimes] that’s through meditation, and I’m sober. I try to keep things really clean here, to be in my own intuition and to move from that place. For me, that is God — this quiet knowing. It’s taken me a long time to get into that place; I’m always trying to get into that place. With Rose, I really identified with her, because I was really spiritually sick for a long time, and depressed and ridden with anxiety. She’s just in that place, and I think a lot of us are in that place, especially after the pandemic.

“What I hoped is people would be able to identify with her experience of the narcissism that can come from our mental health, that keeps us weak and thinking that we’re going at it alone,” said Parker. Interrupted from a pretty tangent, as this film is wont to provoke, Parker’s train of thought got caught off by cacophonous honking. “Oh, did you hear that?” asked Parker, noticing the day-to-day minutiae. “A train is about to plow through.” A stimulated silence followed, the exact same kind that trails after the credits of Next Exit, accompanying racing minds, quiet half-smiles, and very deep thoughts.

Magnet Releasing will bring Next Exit in theaters and VOD on November 4th.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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