The kids here are groomed for the Ivy League. They will be doctors, lawyers, and Wall Street moves and shakers. First, though, they need an education in a safe, nurturing environment sheltered from the worst excesses of the outside world.
Even privileged teenagers have internet access – with all the pornography and violence that implies. And they do drugs too.
Rob (Ezra Miller) – Campos’s confused, wretched update on Holden Caulfield – begins to inch out of his shell when he joins the school’s film club and lucks into an assignment with the sexiest of his classmates, Amy. But his footage turns out to be much more dramatic than he intended when he accidentally shoots the Talbot twins – two blonde seniors who have the school at their feet – overdosing on a cocktail of coke and rat poison.
The aftermath of this tragedy sees the entire institution struggling with guilt and remorse, but Rob’s shellshock is wrapped up in his own benumbed alienation. The well-meaning but clueless principal suggests that he take charge of a tribute video to be screened at the twins’ memorial service – a job that involves interviewing the girls’ anguished parents and friends – and for which Rob turns out to be singularly ill-suited.
Aftermath has been extravagantly praised in some quarters, with 24 year-old, half-Italian, half-Brazilian writer-director Antonio Campos earning comparisons with Stanley Kubrick, Gus van Sant and Michael Haneke. The comparisons are apt, in as much as Campos wears his influences on his sleeve. Specifically, it’s impossible not to think of van Sant’s Columbine requiem, Elephant, and Haneke’s Caché and Benny’s Video. There’s also the name of Rob’s film teacher to contend with: Mr Wiseman is a tip of the hat to the pioneering American documentarian.
The movie is photographed (on 35mm film) in long takes and in widescreen, and the compositions are often ostentatiously askew. Campos will shoot people from the waist down. Or the back of their heads. Or they’re off-screen completely. All of which may or may not express the theme of disaffection.
The teens at Bryton prep are a far cry from those in Superbad or Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Even before the tragedy they walk and talk like regimented zombies. See: they don’t really connect with each other or feel anything because they’ve been over-exposed to YouTube – or something.
Presumably Campos knows what he’s talking about – he went to the same posh prep as Paris Hilton, apparently – but whatever else it may be, Afterschool doesn’t feel lived in. I suspect many people will be put off by the mix of striking aesthetics with thudding sermonizing. More than anything, it made me nostalgic for the anarchic fervour of Lindsay Anderson’s response to the hell of public school, If… But that was another, perhaps more innocent time, when pulling out a machine gun wasn’t deemed psychotic, but necessary.
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