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It’s a safe bet that the philosophy course you took in college was not as as visceral as the one depicted in writer/director John Huddles’ admirably ambitious but muddled fantasy thriller that plays like a cross between The Hunger Games and a Twilight Zone episode. Although it displays far more imagination than is usual for such teen-oriented fare, After the Dark ultimately sinks under the weight of its pretensions.
The story takes place in Jakarta, Indonesia, where a philosophy professor (an entertainingly smarmy James D’Arcy) has apparently decided not to let his students coast through their last day of class. Rather, he’s devised a fiendish “thought experiment” revolving around a hypothetical situation. There’s an impending nuclear apocalypse, and the sole bunker for survival can accommodate only ten people. Since the class numbers twenty, half of them must be weeded out, with the lucky others tasked with the responsibility of perpetuating the human race.
To help the students decide who should live and who should die, cards listing random occupations are handed out. Needless to say, those hapless students labeled “harp player” and “gelato maker” are quickly weeded out, and the poor soul described as a “poet” is shot by the professor on the spot.
On the other hand, a male midwife is greatly to be valued, especially when he demonstrates the ability to determine whether a young woman is having her period or ovulating simply by looking at her. As if to demonstrate his knowledge, he points out, “The uterus isn’t stupid, it knows what it’s doing.” Naturally, the bunker’s condom dispensary is empty, since birth control is hardly what’s called for under the circumstances.
Huddles’ screenplay, toggling back and forth between the classroom and the fantastical situation being discussed — there are many CGI shots of the menacing mushroom clouds in the distance — is undeniably clever, even if it’s too convoluted by far. Particularly amusing are the well-staged depictions of such classic philosophical theories as whether it’s moral to kill one person in order to save five others being threatened by an approaching train and the idea that, if given endless time, a monkey will randomly type out the entire text of Hamlet on a typewriter.
But the film, which confusingly replays its complicated scenario in multiple variations and flashbacks, gets too bogged down in the elaborateness of its conceit. Not helping matters are the routine soap opera melodramatics concerning the relationships among the various young characters, none of whom are particularly interesting. If the survival of mankind ever truly comes to rely on this motley group, there’s little hope for us indeed.
Opens Feb. 7 (Phase 4 Films)
Production: An Olive Branch Productions, SCTV
Cast: James D/Arcy, Bonnie Wright, Daryl Sabara, Sophie Lowe, Rhys Wakefield, Freddie Stroma, Maia Mitchell, Jacob Artist, Katie Findlay
Director/screenwriter: John Huddles
Producers: John Huddles, Cybill Lui, George Zakk
Executive producers: Balaji Rao, Eddie Sariaatmajda
Director of photography: John Radel
Editor: William Yeh
Production designer: David Ingram
Costume designer: Shani Gyde
Composers: Jonathan Davis, Nicholas O’Toole
Not rated, 107 min.
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