After the Dark
James D’Arcy, Rhys Wakefield, Sophie Lowe, Bonnie Wright, Maia Mitchell, Katie Findlay, Daryl Sabara, Freddie Stroma, Erin Moriarty, Jacob Artist, Cinta Laura Kiehl, George Blagden, Hope Olaide Wilson, Philippa Coulthard, Toby Sebastian, Melissa Le-Vu, Abhi Sinha, Darius Homayoun, Natasha Gott, Chanelle Bianca Ho, Taser Hassan, Kory Brown
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An ambitious premise doesn’t always equate to a successful motion picture. After the Dark has an interesting concept that’s marred by implausibilities. If you can get past the manipulations and logical inconsistencies, there’s an engaging youth-centric film waiting to emerge.
The premise surrounds a philosophy class of 21 teens at an experimental school in Jakarta. Their teacher (James D’Arcy) has spent the entire semester pounding the fundamental theories and precepts into their heads. On the final day of class, he has one last study to perform. Positing a nuclear holocaust, he assigns each student a profession and tasks them with deciding which ten will enter a bunker to repopulate the world once the dust settles.
The teacher has underhanded calculations in store for the students and plays those dirty tricks early in the “game,” which ultimately leads to a failure of the task. His machinations are obvious, but his purposes unclear until a final twist displays his disdain for one of the students and another twist that subsequently arises. They are sent into a second event where each profession has a secondar distinguishing characteristic that may hinder their placement in the bunker. These new wrinkles begin to frustrate the students who believe that they are being pushed into specific selections, which angers the teacher’s star student Petra (Sophie Lowe) who has her own scenario in mind.
The film opens with a seemingly tangential relationship between Petra and her boyfriend James (Rhys Wakefield). The film doesn’t quite explain their relationship, how it started or why it’s important to the film. That failure may set up later scenes, but leaves the audience confused about why it’s important. Their relationship is casually tested in the film and provides an unnecessary circumstantial thrust to the story that eventually plays out by the film’s end, yet never finds any credible resolution.
The actors aren’t given room to grow their characters, each is thinly written. They are only permitted to get them so far before the film renders those distinctions irrelevant. The intent to move through as many scenarios in the span of the film as possible cuts down on the immediacy of the decisions being made. They do make the final bunker selection more compelling, but everything is so tightly funneled into that scene that the spontaneity is limited to a handful of interesting reveals that are ultimately just magicians’ tricks to draw your attention away from the twist that will follow.
The young actors show some talent, especially Harry Potter alumnus Bonnie Wright, but there’s not enough distinction to each to make them truly memorable. D’Arcy is a gifted actor, but he didn’t seem that interested in crafting a credible character here or was too restricted by the script to have the opportunity.
Writer/director John Huddles fills the film with logical fallacies and questionable moral decision making. Whether these kinds of topics would ever be discussed in a legitimate philosophy class is largely immaterial. You can come up with some very compelling philosophical arguments, but they almost seem tangential to the direction of the plot’s narrative. The teacher becomes unnecessarily cruel at times and shifts from educator to manipulator all too frequently. It’s impossible to know with the limited historical information presented whether this is the standard operating procedure for the character or if the information provided towards the end of the film is the true impetus for his actions.
After the Dark has interesting seeds of ideas for philosophical discussions, but tries too hard to force certain perspectives and resolutions on the audience. It moves briskly and has a few captivating moments, but suffers too much at the hands of its director. Huddles comes off sounding more like his fictional professor in the film than as a mere obsever of events. That isn’t a bad thing for most films, but here it makes things seem unnecessarily heavy-handed.
February 7, 2014