After the Dark
Films concerned with a post-apocalyptic world are fairly popular with a few popping up each year. The trend has even proliferated to television around the world with the New Zealand teen soap opera, ‘Tribes’, and the current local series ‘Revolution’ to name just two on the myriad that fit the bill. In most cases the cause of global collapse is a topical disaster such as nuclear obliteration during the cold war or in more current times with gene splicing all the rage in the news, a biological catastrophe up to and viral pandemics and the ever popular zombie holocaust. The fact is this is arguably one of the oldest themes dating back to the pre-history of our species. Most religious texts and culturally defining mythologies contain a segment on the end of the world and what happens to the survivors. The word apocalypse is from the Koine Greek literally means to uncover leading to the less frightening title to the culminating book of the scriptural canon, ‘Revelation’. Filmmakers have taken up the challenge of relating scenarios of the end of the world for a considerable time. A few represent some of the best movies of their tome such as the 1959 classic ‘On the Beach’. Lamentably in recent years this formerly thought provoking genre has been diluted into an excuse for special effects driven horror movies. Fortunately there remain filmmakers with vision and the talent to bring their ideas to life. One such artist is John Huddles with his third time writing and directing a film, ‘After the Dark’. He has brought intelligence and purpose back to the post-apocalyptic cinematic theme with a well thought out and tightly executed presentation. The mixture of psychological thriller, fantasy and didactic reasoning is unique making this film one that has earned being viewed by anyone interested in altering the mundane implementations that have come to dominate this type of movie.
Mr. Zimit (James D'Arcy) is a philosophy teacher at an international school located in Jakarta. His class is understandably representative of a broader cultural cross section than would be present in a typical neighbor class room. He announces to his class that he has prepared a challenge that he promises will play a significant part in preparing them for their future. Waiting for the last day of the semester Zimit springs the details of the planned exercise to his students. The teacher sets the scenario the students are to play out. A nuclear war has left the world in ruin. There is a bunker equipped with supplies sufficient for a year, but the design limit allows for only ten occupants. They are tasked with determining which of the twenty or so will be afforded shelter and which will be left to the radioactive wasteland. The ones selected to survive would have to possess the necessary knowledge and skills to ‘reboot’ humanity. Initially the top student, Petra (Sophie Lowe), refuses to participate but the teacher is adamant, assuring her that not participating will ruin her academic ranking.
Zimit has a deck of cards that contain the details concerning the roles in the simulation each student is to portray. Petra’s boyfriend, James (Rhys Wakefield) is given the first card. Petra is next followed by the remainder of the class. James pulled farmer, Petra is given the role of engineer. After each student has a profession or skill set they are afforded an opportunity to defend their inclusion in the shelter after which a general vote is taken. Both James and Petra make the cut but for students like Beatrice (Maia Mitchell), assigned the profession, fashion designer, are refused admittance. Although Zimit is included in the exercise the contents of his card remains secret but is included anyway among the saved. He tells the class that he executed the rejected as a mercy; sparing them the slow, agonizing death of radiation exposure. The conclusion of the first scenario has the survivors willing to go on short rations to accommodate the entire group. They race to lock the bunker door and lock Zimit out. He reveals a code is required to exit and his card showed he is the only one with that code. After the provisions are exhausted the commit mass suicide.
The story is presented by cutting between the classrooms imaginary portrayals of how the scenario would unfold. These scenes were shot in the incredibly diverse and amazingly beautiful setting of Indonesia. When read this technique might sound trite and contrived but when you witness the level of artistry demonstrated by this filmmaker brings this concept out of the pure examination of a Gedankenexperiment and solidifies the potential reality the circumstances potentially hold and the subsequent psychological impact the experiment has upon the participating students. The fundamental premise of the story is based in the imagination but Mr. Huddles pulls the audience into a very real story with profound effects on the students.
Zimit decides to replay the experiment this time replacing nuclear Armageddon with a potentially very possible event locally, a major volcanic eruption. Anyone that is as regular visitor to the Science and History Channels can attest eruptions of the proposed scale has occurred in the past and resulted in global devastation. This time the cards are revealed to contain additional details that will affect the previous decisions. Georgina (Bonnie Wright) had been included because she was a surgeon but the card now has her infected with the Ebola virus. Another alteration is assigning sexual orientation. James and Petra are still included despite his being designated as gay. That is exclusionary not because of any social issues but because part of the exercise is to repopulate humanity. Heterosexual couples are paired and told the process of providing the next generation is to begin immediately. Zimit pairs himself with Petra. The limits of the students are breeched and order in the classroom becomes as chaotic as presented in the context of the experiment. The lines between reality and the thought experiment blur as tensions rise to an explosion.
The film admittedly falls short in the final act when it degrades into a plot contrivance of existing relationships that muddle the teacher’s academic motivations. While this diminishes the impact of the film a sufficient amount of the story’s gravitas remained intact. Much of this is a result of a talented young cast most notably including Ms Wright who grew up on film playing Ginny in the Harry Potter franchise. Mr. Wakefield give more dimension than usually afford the character of the class slacker while Daryl Sabara’s portrayal of the ever calculating student, Chips, takes another stereotype and offers it in a believable fashion to the audience. the film is imaginative in its crafting and while flawed technically it makes the filmmaker a person to watch closely as his career advances.