“I’m alive. I don’t ask why.”
Thanks to the genius of catch-up services, I managed to watch another episode of ITV’s supernatural drama series Afterlife, which I enjoyed rather a lot when I watched it for the first time on Friday. Like The Rat Man, Roadside Bouquets pulls us into an unstable, quasi-Gothic world between horror and psychodrama, truth and metaphor. When Alison sees the ghost of a young woman killed in a road accident in a layby, she’s drawn into an investigation by her inability to ignore the ghost’s plight. Meanwhile, two of Robert’s students attempt to prove that ghost sightings can be explained away psychologically.
Roadside Bouquets, then, stages a double investigation, a supernatural one and a scientific one. It manages, however, not to make the mistake of falling on either side (which would be fatal to the atmosphere of the show), and though its balance of both is masterly, it’s not really interested in either. It asks instead: does it matter whether our experience of the world is supernatural or psychological? Does it matter whether things are objectively real, so long as they are real to the subject?
This is probably not revolutionary, but that kind of nuance and self-awareness is rare in crime drama, and I’m very much enjoying the show’s obvious relish in turning the most obvious of horror tropes into things we can never quite predict – making them new again, making sure we’re never comfortable. Afterlife exploits that ambivalent ground between certainties that makes good horror what it is – unsettling and thought-provoking. I suspect I’ll be watching for a while yet.