The ambitious juggling act that is writer-director John Huddles’s ‘After The Dark’ is somewhat of a challenging one courtesy of its revolving themes. After all, the task of rendering a teen-oriented philosophical fantasy about the hypothetical premise of contemplating apocalyptic survivalist skills in an academic exotic setting is not exactly what one would call aimless juvenile-induced entertainment. Refreshingly, ‘After The Dark’ (the original catchy title was known as ‘The Philosophers’ ) wants to cryptically convey an honest conversation about the fate of mankind’s fragile existence. Despite some questionable unevenness, Huddles oversees a contemplative Science Fiction thriller that dares to assume its thinking cap in surrealistic experimental mode.
Admittedly, enrolling in this particular philosophy course as offered in ‘After The Dark’ clearly presents the classroom experience in a tension-filled, head-scratching whole new light. Sardonically, Huddles presents to his youthful on-screen protagonists the confrontational scenario: what would you do in the event of a nuclear holocaust? More important, which elite ten of the lasting twenty-one bodies left to witness such devastation would be chosen to continue on to face the dire adversities ahead? When push comes to shove, who is in the ideal position to do the pushing and which vulnerable one is at the receiving end of all the shoving? For all the countless and clueless adolescent/young adult ‘in-peril’ flicks that overwhelm the genre it is a relief that ‘After The Dark’ has the stones to be slightly inventive and imaginative in its cautionary youth jeopardy-prone overtones.
The caustic class instruction for ‘the survival of the fittest’ takes place in Jakarta, Indonesia where philosophy professor Eric Zimit (James D’Arcy) oversees his high school seniors on the last day of schooling. His twitchy students want to glide through the remaining time but Zimit has other ideas to contain their unfulfilled minds. Zimit puts his charges through a ‘thought experiment’ that entails a ‘what if’ situation. The dilemma at hand: if war has broken out recklessly and only the precious ten of your twenty-one lives can be saved in a confining nuclear bunker then who is privileged to be spared and destined to be protected in this shelter? Which ten of you will be fortunate enough to live on and ensure the continuation of the human race in the aftermath of such devastation? Just who has the right to choose whether one lives or dies under such dire circumstances?
Purposely, Professor Zimit has devised a cynical system in which the occupational statuses (via playing cards) and their societal importance will determine whose existence is more valued than others. Otherwise, what is the preferred ethical way that the students can evaluate who perishes under the catastrophic scrutiny of the ominous disaster? Skillfully, the needed questions are raised for both Zimit’s matriculating minions and the audience: is the deciding factor about surviving the harsh elements after an atomic nuclear blast up for discussion on an emotional basis? How about a practical one? Should the weak be sacrificial lambs as the strong automatically benefit? What would it take for some of these desperate participants to convince the other one that they should move on with resurrecting humanity at the expense of another less fortunate soul?
The quandary being presented in ‘After The Dark’ is quite thought-provoking and does carry a psychological edginess that is more or less convincing for futuristic consideration. The endless string of theories, self-preservation conception, sinister intentions and mental heft are handled with creative uncertainty. Huddles resourcefully reinforces these heavy-handed notions with placing the burdensome concerns on the shoulders of these kids forced to unconsciously think about something they take for granted: the gift of life. The motivating signs of distant mushroom clouds and the physical isolation on a beachfront (not to mention the restrictive bunker reserved for the lucky ten chosen survivalists) all help to heighten the urgency of Huddles’s fatalistic exposition.
For the most part, the cast does create a sense of believable anxiety about the imperiled impulses that it poses as its subject matter. As the button-pushing manipulator of this nightmarish scholastic exercise, D’Arcy is effectively impish as the teaching mentor inviting such toxic forethought into the classroom politics.
The group of budding academics headed up by the likes of Bonnie Wright, Sophie Lowe, Freddie Stroma, Rhys Wakefield, Daryl Sabara and Maia Mitchell all make for the credible group of learners whose exposed backs are against the weary walls in a critical life lesson of a war-torn world in which any of them could be expendable. Overall, the symbolic pulse that pumps in ‘After The Dark’ does adequately resonate with dramatic conviction. The arbitrary subplot pertaining to the young characters’ angst-driven soap suds tendencies (independent from Zimit’s mind-game warfare, of course) among themselves could have been pushed further into the background. Otherwise, ‘After The Dark’ accomplishes its goal as a thorny thriller that pinches in all the relevant places.
After the Dark (2014)
Starring: James D’Arcy, Bonnie Wright, Maia Mitchell, Daryl Sabara, Sophie Lowe, Rhys Wakefield and Freddie Stroma
Director: John Huddles
Screenplay : John Huddles
MPAA RATING: NR (not rated)
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY: Phase 4 Films
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)