Monday, February 03, 2014

After the Dark: Talking Through the Apocalypse

In most lifeboat scenarios, it is women and children first.  That is not necessarily the case for the hypotheticals one philosophy class will grapple with. Logic will be the first thing thrown over the side in John Huddles’ After the Dark (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

The elite philosophy class of Jakarta’s western school for wealthy expats is a little put out having to do work on the final day of class, but Mr. Zimit is playing hardball with their grades. They will each draw a profession from his box and then vote on who gets a place in the bomb shelter. There are twenty of them and enough air and provisions in the bunker for ten.

As their “thought experiments” play out, we see the survivors interacting, like rats trapped in a cage, but since they are all just jawing back in their Jakarta classroom, where is all this melodrama coming from? It gets rather puzzling at times as when, for obvious reasons of jealousy, Zimit decrees James, the just-getting-by boyfriend of his prized pupil Petra, shall hence force be gay. To be true to himself, James subsequently starts sleeping with the class’s token gay Adonis in bunker world. That drives Petra into the bunker-arms of Zimit, which in turn disturbs James because he always had a bad feeling about that guy. Frankly, it would be much more interesting to see how that could possibly come out in a classroom conversation than to sit through the dramatic representation.

Dark’s basic premise is intriguing, but the execution is a logical shipwreck, starting at the top with Mr. Zimit. Supposedly he wants his students to think like philosophers, but it is more like he is training them to be actuaries.  You’re a gelato maker—sorry not much earnings potential there. In a running gag, Zimit summarily executes the poor shmuck stuck being the poet before selection even begins, because he so obviously lacks utility. Really, that is what a philosophy teacher thinks of poetry?  I put it to you Mr. Zimit, any philosophy instructor who neglects the age old philosophic study of aesthetics is a substandard teacher who therefore must relinquish his role in deciding who will live and who will die.

Regardless, Sophie Lowe is surprisingly good as Petra, the sensitive smartie.  The whole class is ridiculously attractive, but the girls generally sound more convincingly like members of a gifted-and-talented class than the meathead guys. Yet, the film’s real trump card is the Indonesian locales that add a distinctively surreal wtf-ness that helps forestall all the questions regarding logical inconsistencies.

Have you ever woken up at night with what feels like a brilliant idea, but thought otherwise once you read your scribbled notes in the morning? That probably happened to Huddles, except he still thought it was a fine notion and proceeded to film it. There is a germ of something here, but he should have given his subconscious more time to kick it around. However, Russian audiences evidently disagreed, making it a surprise box office champion over several studio films, which is impressive considering its relatively sympathetic gay character probably makes it illegal under Putin’s “homosexual propaganda” law. A head-scratcher all the way around, After the Dark releases in select theaters and on VOD this Friday (2/7).