On the eve of her 25th birthday, party girl Cassie gets a wake-up call …
But before she can enter into an eternal afterlife, Cassie is informed by Val (her sort of temporary guardian angel) that she has some “unfinished business” that she needs to attend to before the powers that be will decide if Cassie will be going “Above” or “Below.”
Cassie will have to make amends with those closest to her before she died. Easier said than done, especially since an entire year has passed on Earth.
First on the list is Cassie’s best friend, Lisa—er, former best friend. They had a terrible argument just before Cassie passed about how Cassie’s partying changed her into a different person (one whom Lisa wasn’t too fond of).
Next is Cassie’s mom, whom she only refers to as Sofia. Sofia left Cassie and her dad when Cassie was young, and Cassie never quite forgave her for that.
Finally, Cassie must find a way to connect with her dad. She always meant to visit him, but somehow her busy party lifestyle always got in the way.
It’s a tall order. And Cassie only has five days to fill it if she doesn’t want to be doomed to eternity “Below.”
While alive, Cassie takes Lisa for granted. In her desire to be the center of attention, she ignores Lisa’s pleas to spend some one-on-one time together. And when Lisa suggests that they go home early since Cassie’s so-called “friends” don’t seem to really care about her, it sparks an argument between the women.
Cassie learns that because she died just after this disagreement, Lisa felt guilty and responsible for Cassie’s death. (When Cassie tried to apologize later that night, Lisa pretended to be asleep.) However, the argument didn’t end 19 years-worth of friendship. Because of their close connection, Cassie finds a way to reveal herself to Lisa (see Spiritual Content). The young women forgive each other, and Cassie builds her restored best friend up, encouraging Lisa and giving her the confidence to talk to her crush and apply for a job she really wants. Lisa, in turn, helps Cassie communicate with Sofia.
Though Lisa doesn’t tell Sofia that Cassie is technically present, she acts as an interpreter between the two women. Cassie learns that it wasn’t her fault that her mom left. And that her mom loves her. Sofia admits that she was selfish and immature at the time. She says she regrets leaving and even says that her ex-husband (Cassie’s dad) was a better man than she deserved. Cassie recognizes that she was more like her mom than she realized and forgives her as well.
Cassie has difficulty fixing things with her dad. For years, she had avoided spending time with him because she felt he was “smothering” her. She also mocked him for his yoga obsession. However, after she passed away, he fell into a depression, blaming himself for not being able to protect her. But Cassie persists and uses her angelic powers (see Spiritual Content) to get her dad to pursue his passion for yoga again. And eventually, she is able to reveal herself to him as well, giving him the closure he needs to move on with his life.
Though Cassie is only required to help the three people on the list Val gave her, she surprises Val by asking to help another, even though it means she might not meet her 5-day deadline. And when she’s ready to give up and face whatever is in the “Below,” she decides to keep going since Val tells Cassie that all of her hard work will be undone if she fails. Moreover, when Val breaks the rules to help Cassie out, Cassie takes full responsibility, risking her own afterlife to prevent Val from getting into trouble.
The afterlife that Cassie experiences has three different destinations. The “In-Between” that she initially lands in is for people like her who have unfinished business. It’s presented as a waiting room (which is individualized for each person to help make their transition into the afterlife more comfortable) located in the angel headquarters.
If she can find peaceful closure, improving the lives of those she left behind on Earth, Cassie will ride an elevator to the “Above,” which is described as a sort of spa. (And later, we see it visualized as a beautiful Garden of Eden-esque paradise.) One man goes here directly, stating that he died saving people from a natural disaster while doing relief work for a different natural disaster.
However, if Cassie fails to complete her task list, she’ll be sent “Below.” And while nobody confirms what it’s like, Cassie imagines that it’s a place for murderers and “people who don’t like Beyoncé.”
Val serves as Cassie’s afterlife guardian angel, guiding the young woman and encouraging her to complete her tasks. She tells Cassie that it’s her dream to get promoted to full guardian angel status, since she would then be able to help people while they’re still alive, not only after they’ve died. (We also learn that there is an angel committee that decides where people go when they die.)
Though angels don’t have wings and only wear halos “on special occasions,” they do have supernatural powers. Val can teleport herself and Cassie anywhere in the world and talk to animals, though she can’t control minds or communicate telepathically (since that’s a higher paygrade).
Cassie is given access to the “basic angel package,” allowing her to teleport to the places where she is needed on Earth and to change her clothes with her mind. But she’s told that nobody will be able to see or hear her (except dogs and small children) and that she won’t be able to move objects in the physical world. However, because of her close relationship with Lisa, Cassie is able to establish a rare “soul mate” connection, which allows the girls to see and talk to each other. It also allows Cassie to move objects around as long as it’s for the benefit of the people on her list.
Though God is never specifically mentioned, someone mistakenly thinks He is a woman. When Cassie uses her powers to help her dad, he thanks the “universe.” We see Buddha statues in a yoga studio. Cassie’s parents both say they can feel her presence. Lisa says she needs an exorcist when she first sees Cassie.
Lisa has a crush on her neighbor, Max. And as a part of Cassie’s redemption, Cassie builds Lisa up and encourages her to pursue a romantic relationship with Max. Lisa does and after a successful first date, the couple makes out.
Cassie has a crush on the pop star Koop. She kisses pictures of him and fawns over him in other scenes.
Some women wear revealing clothes. Couples hold hands. We hear about a divorce.
Cassie dies after slipping and hitting her head on a toilet.
There are three misuses of God’s name. The substitutes “gosh” and “freaking” are also heard. When Cassie says the word “swear,” she is scolded for swearing by Val.
People drink throughout the film (and Cassie’s dad drinks to handle his depression after she dies). The night that Cassie dies, she becomes drunk and stumbles around her apartment. The next morning, still stumbling from the intoxication, she slips in the bathroom, causing her untimely death. Someone says that champagne with gold flakes makes people hallucinate.
One of Lisa’s coworkers is a bit obnoxious and tries to psych her out to stop her from applying for a job he wants. When Lisa acts humble, a woman tells her that “modesty is a myth sold to women.”
It’s always sad when someone dies young. However, Cassie is positive about her non-future stating that there has to be a reason she died, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.
By the end of the film, it’s pretty clear.
Alive, Cassie was sinking further and further into a lifestyle of selfishness and bad decisions. Dead, she learns what really mattered all along—true friends and family.
Cassie is given a second chance to make things right with the ones she loves (and who love her in return). And along the way, she realizes that it’s not so much about doing good for the sake of her eternal fate, but rather helping others out for their benefit.
That other-centered and even sacrificial message could be seen as echoing similar themes in the Bible. Cassie’s spiritual journey—albeit one that she’s highly motivated to make—prompts her to begin to look after others’ needs instead of her own, even to the extent of being willing to sacrifice her eternal destiny to protect Val.
Still, the depiction of the afterlife here veers from a Christian understanding of that concept. A person’s afterlife destination in this story is determined by her works and her core goodness. Scripture, in contrast, teaches that none of us can merit salvation by being good enough. We all sin and turn away from God, which is why Jesus died—to bring us forgiveness and to restore our broken relationship with the Father.
With that in mind, families will want to think through whether this lighthearted fable about the afterlife is worthy of a watch and a conversation afterward. And to the film’s credit, it’s largely free of other seriously problematic content. In fact, Cassie’s death is related to drinking too much, something that could be seen as another cautionary message in the film. Lisa repeatedly asks Cassie to stop indulging. She doesn’t. And she dies because of it.
There’s another redemptive message here too: Cassie learns that her value was never tied to whether or not people knew who she was or even whether or not those same people liked her. She was valued by the ones she loved because she was there.
In the end, Afterlife of the Party is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a mix of redemptive and cautionary messages mingled with some important theological issues that families who watch will want to address very intentionally.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.