After the Dark review: most illogical

After the Dark yellow light

A thrilling combination of drama, near-science-fiction, suspense, coming-of-age agita, and intellectual exploration of ideas. Pity it derails itself.
I’m “biast” (pro): was intrigued by the trailer

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s the last day of school before graduation, but philosophy teacher Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy: Cloud Atlas) isn’t about to let his 20 seniors go without one more brain teaser. The students are superbright overachievers from around the world — they’re at an international school in Jakarta — so there’s only a hint of a grumble before they’re off into philosophical speculation. The scenario is this: Nuclear armageddon has arrived, and they have mere minutes to decide which of the 21 of them (the students plus Zimit) will hunker down in the convenient nearby radiation-proof bunker, which can sustain 10 people, and no more, for a year until it’s safe to come out. Plausibility isn’t a concern. The issue is: How best to choose from among the random skills and professions the students have picked from a hat to assemble a group of people who might be able to begin rebuilding civilization. You know, one’s an “organic farmer,” one’s a “carpenter,” one’s a “structural engineer”… but there’s one who’s a “poet,” another an “opera singer,” a third a “maker of gelato.” And so on. Gotta be sure to get a good mix of boys and girls as well as skills, too, because making babies is going to be a priority. Writer-director John Huddles makes fantastic use of spectacular Indonesian locations, such as the Hindu temple Prambanan, as the settings for the class’s group imagination, and it’s beyond thrilling to see a genre-busting story such as this one that combines drama, near-science-fiction, suspense, coming-of-age agita, and an intellectual exploration of ideas. The young cast, which includes Bonnie Wright (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), Daryl Sabara (John Carter), Rhys Wakefield (The Purge), and Sophie Lowe, is great (as is D’Arcy, of course). It’s a shame, then, that After the Dark (formerly titled The Philosophers) completely loses its way in its final third. To be fair, there was probably no satisfying wrapup to be found here, because this isn’t a story: it’s a thought experiment designed to demonstrate that there aren’t always easy answers to tough problems, and sometimes there’s no single correct answer at all. Still, it didn’t need to go to a place that both contradicts its early — and very commendable — dedication to reason and logic and is actually sort of icky.

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