The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


After the Dark

After the Dark (a.k.a. The Philosophers) is an extremely ambitious film. Like Waking Life or I Heart Huckabees, it attempts to entertain while also exploring philosophical matters. Even if it ends up falling short of the mark, there is still something pleasurable in watching a youth-driven movie that dares to dream big and investigate something thoughtful.

The story is set at an international school in Jakarta. On the last day of class, the philosophy teacher, Mr. Zimit (James D'Arcy), gives his class of about twenty students a hypothetical situation: there's been an apocalypse, but only ten of them can enter the bunker that will keep them safe and allow them to reboot the human race. Based on occupations and personal details he assigns each student, they have to decide who gets in and who is left outside to die. The movie is structured so that we sometimes see the students in the classroom debating, and other times we see them in some kind of post-apocalyptic setting doing the same thing. After their choices are made, the repercussions play out in a fantasy sequence. Unsatisfied with the initial results, the class goes through the exercise two more times, hoping to obtain a better outcome. One of the pupils, Petra (Sophie Lowe), becomes a leader in the process, while it gradually begins to seem as though Mr. Zimit is oddly intent on mentally tormenting his students. Bonnie Wright (the Harry Potter series), Daryl Sabara (Spy Kids), and Katie Findlay (AMC's The Killing) play some of the other kids.

I recall having to do an exercise similar to this in school, and I'm betting you do, too. After the Dark wisely gives all the kids a high level of intelligence, so that the reasoning behind their choices in each scenario is logical, while also kind of ingenious. Initially, they make choices based solely on occupation (the doctor is in, the professional harp player is out), then, upon learning personal details about their “characters,” make very different, but no less plausible, choices. It's hard not to play along, to explore your own reasoning and compare it to theirs. You almost become another student in the classroom. In this sense, After the Dark is very engaging. The movie forces you to confront your own surface level ideas about a person's value, then challenge it, just as the characters do.

The drawback is that writer/director John Huddles apparently didn't think a bunch of people sitting in a room talking or debating was interesting enough. (Someone show him My Dinner With Andre or Richard Linklater's Before... trilogy!) He therefore indulges in those fantasy sequences, in which we see how the scenarios play out, complete with action moments and (mild) sex scenes. Frankly, it becomes a bit disorienting and leads to a host of unanswered questions. When we see the characters shooting at each other, fighting, or making love, what is their corresponding behavior in the classroom? And how do they know how things would play out, i.e. who would behave ethically and who would not? Would anyone actually step up and say, “I'm going to do this surprising thing right now that none of you will see coming”? It feels like the film is cheating a bit, fudging on its own logic in order to toss in some thrills it doesn't really need.

After the Dark would have been better just focusing on the moral debates. Still, during the times that it does show them – and that's probably a little more than half the running time - it's engaging. This is a flawed film, but it's also one that's not completely without merit.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: After the Dark opens in limited release on Feb. 7, and will be available on VOD the same day.

After the Dark is unrated, but contains sequences of violence and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.