REVIEW: AFTER THE DARK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JOHN HUDDLES / SCREENPLAY: JOHN HUDDLES / STARRING: JAMES D'ARCY, SOPHIE LOWE, DARYL SABARA, FREDDIE STROMA / RELEASE DATE: JULY 21ST
John Huddles’ After the Dark may sell itself like a sci-fi tinged survival thriller, but really, it’s nothing more than speculation and role-playing, like a drawn-out drama exercise. Like Hot Chocolate’s ubiquitous song, it starts with a kiss. In fact, the keen, stylish plot is bookended by a mawkish love story.
The hypothetical thought experiment, which is an end of term treat from megalomaniacal Mr Zimit (played by James D’Arcy) to his philosophy students, is set exclusively in a classroom and, in that regard, has more in common with Dead Poets Society than 2011's The Divide.
The first iteration of the thought experiment is interesting enough, the second is pushing it, but the heavy-handed liberal third incarnation is simply masturbation. Repetition in movies is often hugely effective (look at this year’s Edge of Tomorrow) but having three goes at the same idea is better explored in the anarchic German flick Run Lola Run.
The apparently gifted students are only able to recite the most basic pop-philosophy which begs the question whether Huddles’ himself was a philosophy student. It’s doubtful, and his Google research shines through in his script.
The visual representation of philosophy conundrums is like taking a peek into Sherlock’s mind palace. Indeed, D’Arcy appears to have modeled his performance on Benedict Cumberbatch. Interestingly enough, D’Arcy has played Holmes in the lukewarm 2002 TV movie Sherlock.
Some of the performances leave a lot to be desired, Bonnie Wright, better known as Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise, doesn’t stretch herself especially far, though Daryl Sabara (all grown up after playing Juni in Spy Kids) is fun as Chips. But it’s D’Arcy who stands out, Cumberbatch aside.
The Jakarta setting is an especially nice touch, and the establishing shots are striking, but even after genre successes like District 9, South Africa remains largely, and sadly, ignored.
The film ultimately suffers from not being nearly as smart as it thinks it is and being too smart for its own good. It does raise one question that has been debated over many pints and coffees in student digs and on the tube; how would you survive if nuclear bombs fell?
Instead of presenting an interesting deconstruction of philosophy, getting to the heart of the subject, exploring class, intellect, gender, sexuality etc. it instead opts to be an underwhelming love story.
After the Dark is another interesting idea undermined by an overly sentimental ending. There is something there, a pervasive tenseness that begs a second viewing, but the film is little more than convoluted romance.