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Within a Philosophy classroom, containing exemplary students, a game of “what if” is played to test the students beyond the subject of Philosophy.
Trigger Warning(s): Gun Violence
Review (with Spoilers)
I don’t remember how I discovered the film exactly, but with the familiar faces of Bonnie Wright, from Harry Potter; Daryl Sabara, from Spy Kids and Weeds; Maia Mitchell, from The Fosters; Jacob Artist, from Glee; and Katie Findlay, from The Carrie Diaries; I did find it hard to not check out the trailer and find myself intrigued.
Characters & Story
It is senior year and before the students leave Mr. Zimit’s (played by James D’Arcy) Philosophy class, he has one more experiment. In the character’s strange mixture between Ms. Frizzle, from Magic School Bus, and Willy Wonka, more so the Gene Wilder version, he decides that the final experiment for the class will be based on a Global Cataclysm, of the nuclear kind, in which of the 21 in his class, only 10 are given a guarantee to survive. But, the catch is, each student will be given up to two occupations, or an occupation and a genetic trait which will assist in them possibly being chosen for the bunker.
Thus beginning a story in which, mostly, Mr. Zimit is the puppet master of the tale, but once the puppets slowly become self-aware, we see him lose control and this leads to him often trying to change the rules so he ends up on top. Well, until the very end.
The first thing I like about this movie is the fact that the concept seems fresh to me. Though we have had many Battle Royale styled movies in which high school-aged students are pitted against each other in combat, for After The Dark, instead things are placed in a fictional universe and it is a matter of mind of weaponry. With this, we see the different values society, perhaps at its core, has when it comes to people, and their occupation. If death was imminent, what would men and women become but procreators; if a person can only offer poetry, are they worth saving? What about genetics? If a person isn’t perfect, are they worth casting aside just for that?
I mean, even when you set aside the philosophical questions, there is also quite a good story which doesn’t fully reveal itself until the end. But, while I must say I like the cast, especially those whose name you actually get to know, I must praise Mr. Zimit most of all. D’Arcy’s weird mixture, which makes him seem like a child of Ms. Frizzle and Willy Wonka, with the dad’s humor dominating, is just as much troubling as entertaining. A man ruled by logic and intelligence, has such a fascinating imagination and tries to push his students past the point of their own understanding in such a way which may lead to personal growth for them, but alienates them from him at the same time. Which, perhaps, is also praise in itself for writer/ director John Huddles who hasn’t made a film in over a decade previous to this. Which in a way makes it sad, for I found the film quite brilliant.
But, the film does have its flaws. Of the 21+ people of the cast, only a handful really get defined. And really, only those who have recognizable faces really get to stand out in the film, with the exception of Mitchell, and everyone else seem like extras who got paid to work for more than a single day. And the reason I say that is, essentially, Sophie Lowe and Rhys Wakefield’s characters are the leads, and though Wright, Sabara, Artist and Findlay do get some meat for their characters, most of the other characters you may be hard pressed just to know their name. Hell, even after finishing the film, without looking at the IMDB listing, I wouldn’t know more than 4 of the 21.
Also, I must admit the ending put me off a bit. Like with Inception, we are left interpreting the ending as we choose. So, for those who like their ending to be definite, be aware that the final moments lead to debate.
Overall: Worth Seeing
The flaw of the film is rather small in comparison to the intrigue of the story. And while, as can be seen in the archives, I do love coming-of-age stories, young people in love, and etc., it is nice to see them in positions where intellect, of the naturally assumed and also the emotional kind, is on display. Which is one of the primary reasons I say this is worth watching, through whatever method you should choose. For while everyone may not get developed, at least to my liking, at least those who do get focused on have their moment and show why they were chosen to give more meat to in this tale Mr. Zimit’s final lesson.