Monday, 21 July 2014

AFTER THE DARK (AKA THE PHILOSOPHERS) - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by John Huddles, Starring: James D’Arcy, Bonnie Wright, Sophie Lowe, Daryl Sabara. Science Fiction, US / Indonesia, 2013, 107mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD on 21st July 2014 by Signature Entertainment

On their last day before graduating, a class of high-achieving students are given one final challenge by their philosophy teacher. Imagine a nuclear apocalypse scenario whereby there is a fully-equipped bunker which can only sustain ten people for a year. Who do you decide to take with you into the safe haven of the bunker in order to help repopulate and rebuild the human race once the fallout has settled – and who do you leave outside to die in the radiation?

Going into this film with neither prior knowledge nor any pre-conceived notions, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a smartly written conceit bristling with ideas and told with ravishing visuals. Mind you, it’s not an easy film to classify, nor indeed to heartily recommend without reservation.  The premise is essentially a philosophical classroom discussion. All a bit cerebral – not necessarily a bad thing – just not a concept that’ll be universally welcomed you understand. Then again, the visual representation of the impending apocalyptical scenarios are realised with stunning Indonesian locations and judicious CGI. Although you never totally forget that what you are witnessing is essentially all just hypothetical, the script is sufficiently infused with moral curve balls which catch both the viewer and the students regularly off-guard.

It’s refreshing to watch a film about students in which you can actual believe they might just be capable of graduating and may genuinely have a grasp of the infinite monkey theorem. It helps that they are not just being served up on a smorgasbord for some slicing and dicing, but instead are there as mouthpieces for philosophical concepts and ideas. Amongst the student body you’ll recognise Bonnie Wright (Harry Potter’s sweetheart Ginny Weasley), at the front of the classroom, still in school, but at least she’s moved on from learning how to transfigure into a cat from Professor McGonagall. Another familiar face is Daryl (SPY KIDS) Sabara, now all grown-up and memorably manipulating one hypothetical scenario to engineer an (enviable) conclusion whereby he is the only male amongst a ‘harem’ of female students more than willing to copulate with him for the continuation of the human race despite the fact he is allegedly sterile! James D’Arcy’s teacher ‘Mr Zimit’ offers suave and sinister in equal measure and an alarming tendency to (hypothetically) reach for firearms in each hypothetical puzzle.

I will concede that I thought the conclusion was a tad disappointing. Not because it offers something so far-fetched and left-field that you feel cheated (it resolutely doesn’t) but rather that in playing it straight it all ends on a rather mundane note compared to the intellectual fireworks which have preceded it.

But with that reservation aside, I rather enjoyed my final lesson in Mr Zimit’s class, or rather in the philosophical minds of Mr Zimit’s graduating class. I didn’t learn a huge amount about the human condition, but I did take this thought away with me: in the event of a nuclear holocaust, when deciding if you’re ‘worthy’ of a place in the bunker, for god’s sake don’t say you’re a poet.

**** (out of 5*)



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