While I admittedly love to switch my brain off and enjoy gory, mindless horror silliness, I still possess enough cognitive skills to appreciate a good thinking man’s thriller every now and then. Deep philosophical debating about apocalyptic survival, complete with hypothetical test scenarios, and the serious technicalities that come along with the world’s end transform simple bar banter into logical, calculated decision-making. After The Dark gives horror fans such an opportunity, turning gore and death into worthwhile ideological conversations based on different scenario rules, a multitude of character skill sets, and a bunker that can only fit ten survivors. Let the games begin?
Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy) appears to be the teacher any student would be lucky to have – exciting, engaging, and extremely intelligent. Philosophy is far more than textbooks and regurgitated theories, something Mr. Zimit works into his final class of the year. Sure, these students could have been forced into a final examination, but instead they enter an alternate reality of tough decisions, sound logic, and unknown curveballs – all taking place during the apocalypse. The test is simple – nuclear warfare is ravishing the world, the classmates have a safe bunker that only fits 10 people, each student has a specific talent, and the survivors must be decided on for the sake of humanity. Do you let the florist live because he’s your best friend, or the organic farmer because his skills are actually meaningful? Only deductive reasoning holds the answers – if rationality can be achieved in a time of pure chaos.
There’s a time and place for action-based thrillers, but the addition of logic adds such an interesting spin on destructive storytelling. We aren’t handed a band of misfit survivors bludgeoning their way through hordes of zombies, but instead a close group of friends given the unenviable task of sending innocent lives to their death – for the greater good. Living becomes a democratic process. Can a poet establish his self-worth over an orthopedic surgeon who can treat broken bones? As more variables are thrown like wrenches into the gears of our struggling class, conundrums become increasingly difficult and mysteriously intriguing as certain characters struggle to keep their emotions at bay.
Among the classmates you’ll find a slew of familiar faces, from Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), to the mask wearing ringleader from The Purge (Rhys Wakefield), to Shark Boy (Daryl Sabara) – hell, there’s a whole bevy of talented, young actors whose faces will seem extremely familiar. Watching these students interact on an animalistic, morally definitive level promotes intelligent fun, as each decision is fully reasoned before casting a classmate to certain death. Sorry, except the gelato maker – poor guy and his delicious artistry that doesn’t mean a damn when repopulating and recolonizing Earth.
The children are passionate and make well-articulated arguments, but it’s Sabara who steals top-honors for his “What’s the point of living if you can’t have sex?” thought experiment hypothesis. In a darker, serious, more thought-provoking film, such a monologue adds a bit of light-hearted entertainment our simpler side can appreciate.
James D’Arcy, the mad genius behind each scenario, keeps each game entertaining and always changing, but it’s his apparent grudge with Rys Wakefield’s character that becomes a tad overplayed. Deeper motivations are eventually revealed (a message that comes off a bit pervy in fact), but one teacher surely wouldn’t stoop so low over a jealous tiff. I could have also done without D’Arcy’s drawn out ending, as After The Dark had a perfectly clean cut once class ended – but then one student waits around and we hit a stretch of scenes that fight off the scrolling end-credits for far too long. Writer/Director John Huddles achieves a rich, dense story worth your undivided attention, but loses precious momentum by ending on one final, unnecessary conundrum.
Where were teachers like Mr. Zimit when I attended college/high school? Hell, all I can remember about Philosophy 101 was the valuable napping granted in between my 8AM and 10AM classes and books I couldn’t even sell back – no apocalyptic experiments in sight. After The Dark offers us unluckier thinkers a chance to debate our own life-altering horror scenarios, and how we might react in the face of certain doom. Man, I better find another skill quick, because I’m pretty positive “Online Film Critic” doesn’t make a strong enough case for a bunker spot – even if our dystopian future has internet.
After The Dark is a smart, witty, and thoughtful thriller that offers a fresh take on the apocalypse genre.