Review: ‘After the Dark’

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I’m a sucker for a good apocalypse movie.  As a child of the Cold War with an overactive imagination, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d handle myself in the face of such cataclysmic scenarios.  So After the Dark struck a chord from the moment it hit my radar.  Check this out: A group of twenty prep-school seniors in Indonesia grow up fast when a global atomic event changes everything.  There’s a really posh bunker stocked with amenities but here’s the problem: There’s only room for ten of them.  With radiated blast-waves bearing down on them, they must quickly make life and death decisions based on what they know each other.  Not only will half of the class suffer an agonizing death in the fallout, the ten who make it into the shelter must deal with unforeseen consequences of their decisions.  Eventually, the cold logic they used to determine who would live and who would die proves to have been shortsighted as a whole new terror emerges inside the underground haven.

Sounds amazing, right?  On top of this killer set-up, After the Dark has a dope trailer and arresting DVD cover art, so of course I was thrilled to give this one a spin.  And it’s Rated R–always a great sign for an aficionado like myself.  But 10 minutes in, I was suddenly extremely disappointed and felt almost betrayed.  OK, if I had paid more attention to the trailer, it’s no secret, but before another apocalypse-junkie gets his hopes up, there’s something really important you need to be aware of:  None of it really happens.

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis: At an international school in Jakarta, a philosophy teacher challenges his class of twenty graduating seniors to choose which ten of them would take shelter underground and reboot the human race in the event of a nuclear apocalypse.

That’s right, it’s all hypothetical.  It’s just a coed-multicultural pie-chart of over-privileged young elitists and a painfully arrogant Philosophy teacher playing a long, ultimately inconsequential game of “What If”.  Before I break it down for you, let me give you a metaphorical example of what it was like for me to watch this movie–even after I put aside my initial disappointment.  It’s liked I walked into this hopping party.  It’s a diverse gathering and everyone looks great.  I even find someone I can light a spliff with.  But the more I spend time with these “beautiful people” the more I realize that they’re all rather insipid.  What’s worse is they’re all a bunch of know-it-all college freshmen of the most sanctimonious variety.  After an hour, part of me wants to bash my head against a wall.  I just can’t wait for this party to be over so I can be free of their pseudo-intellectual philoso-babbling.  I’m like, “End.  END!”

Okay, before you go thinking I’ve become a rude, jaded asshole, After the Dark has some good things going on.  For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous.  Filmed in Jakarta and all around Indonesia, there are some amazing shots, like: Mushroom clouds blooming behind ancient temples; a truck racing against a thunderous, vaporizing shock-wave across a fertile volcanic expanse, and; an isolated island paradise.  This beauty is an awesome juxtaposition to the “horrifying” conundrums our kids must untangle.

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Depending on your frame of reference, watching After the Dark can be compared to a cinematic version of a Choose Your Own Adventure story or a game of Dungeons & Dragons.  Or you can go back to my opening metaphor and imagine a bunch of drunk people having a heated conversation about the apocalypse.  The central “Thought Experiment” plays out in three varying iterations, which makes it easy to analyze After the Dark in terms of a 3 Act story (with an epilogue—an awful, painfully epilogue). For Horror fans, Act 1 is as good as it’s ever gunna get as the group’s arrogant assumptions and unwavering faith in their above-average intelligence turns out to have some extremely gruesome consequences. I think I might have enjoyed After the Dark immensely if the entire movie was an expansion of this single segment (that and if the nuclear war was actually real). A cruel twist produces a horror immensely darker than what the kid’s peers endured in the wasteland.

Act 2 has some medium heft to it (namely, the proposition of forced procreation), but it’s pretty much just Act 1 with a different cast. The repetition of the Class Poet’s fate is as close as the movie ever comes to black comedy—a postulation I admit I took some ironic pleasure in. In the 3rd Act, class valedictorian Petra (Sophie Lowe) attempts to shake things up by seizing control of the narrative from the obsessively pessimistic clutches of class instructor Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy). What should be the film’s climax is a convoluted love-fest of utopian musings that bear all the hallmarks of teenage arrogance. Whatever After the Dark had done to accomplish an R Rating in the first 2 Acts is quickly forgotten in a torrent of ultra-sweet sappiness. It’s sad, really.

And then comes that epilogue (that painful, ridiculous epilogue) wherein they attempt to convince us that a subtext playing out beneath the hypotheticals is the real crux of the movie’s intensity. But it’s not. Aside from the screamingly hilarious “Thought Experiment within the Thought Experience”, it’s an unforgivable sidetrack that greatly detracts from the overall impact of this film. Even if it’s an ending that was important to writer/director John Huddles, it’s too long and way too full-of-itself—seriously, it’s almost masturbatory.

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And before you go saying I never intended to give this film a chance from the moment I realized it was merely a hypothetical apocalypse, I say: “No way, Jose.” Shattered expectations come with the territory, so I imagined new potentials, like: Soul-crushing mental manipulations, life-changing revelations, or even examinations of power and control—a fictionalized reimagining of the Stanford Prison Experiments, for example. But After the Dark never achieves any meaningful resonance for this aficionado.  It’s simply impossible for me to commit genuine emotion to a scenario that isn’t real (and, truthfully, I don’t even believe that the students participating in this exercise would take it so personally). Thank God for the great nuclear war FX because otherwise, this film is just a long, ultimately pointless conversation.

There is something terrifying in the subtext, however, something that conveys even without beautiful geography or CGI. The fact is, most people rarely take the time to wrestle with the kinds of questions posed in After the Dark—to really flush them out. More difficult still is taking an objective long-view and examining the potentially grim consequences and repercussions. If you commit to this kind of thought exercise, you can draw some absolutely devastating conclusions. Most of us really don’t have the stomach.

Not to brag, but After the Dark doesn’t hold a candle to some of the nightmare scenarios my twisted teenage mind used to postulate. Anyone looking for a truly moving and disturbing bomb-shelter saga should take a look as Xavier Gen’s The Divide (definitely not for the faint of heart). You can read my review of that powerful film: HERE. As for After the Dark

2 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE

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Directed by John Huddles
Produced by George Zakk
Cybill Lui
John Huddles
Screenplay by John Huddles
Starring James D’Arcy,
Sophie Lowe,
Daryl Sabara,
Freddie Stroma,
Rhys Wakefield,
Bonnie Wright
Music by Jonathan Davis
Nicholas O’Toole
Cinematography John Radel
Editing by William Yeh
Studio An Olive Branch Productions
SCTV
Distributed by Phase 4 Films,
All Media Company
Release dates
  • 7 July 2013 (2013-07-07) (NIFFF)[1]
  • 7 February 2014 (2014-02-07) (United States)[2]
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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