Fikri Jermadi grappled for the switch after watching this film.
After the less-than-favourable review on ‘War of the Worlds: Goliath’, I wondered whether I am being unnecessarily tough and cruel on certain films. Perhaps there is a difference between what I had expected and what the filmmakers did. Of course, the fact is filmmaking remain a difficult and tricky thing to do at the best of times; this is amplified when it comes to the making of films beyond borders.
With that in mind, and having to embargo a review I had prepared, I decided to turn my attention to another film with international co-production connotations. Originally titled ‘The Philosophers’, the producers later changed it to ‘After The Dark’ for certain reasons. One would think that commercial factors may well have been behind this. For me at least, it didn’t make much of a difference, for, not unlike ‘War of the Worlds: Goliath’, it was the premise that drew me in. Here’s a scene to sum it up:
“You’re hanging off the highest tower in Jakarta. It’s a thousand feet drop to your death, so you call your three best friends for help. They rush out to save you, but they’re afraid if they try to pull you up, they might be yanked over themselves…so they step back.”
“You fall,” the voice continues, “and live. But do you wish that you’d never tested your friends in the first place? Since now you know you can’t trust them when it’s a matter of life or death? Would it have been better if you had stayed ignorant to what they’re truly good for and gone on being friends forever?”
The question above was posed by Eric Zimit (James D’Arcy). He is the philosophy teacher of an international school in Jakarta. The kids are about to have their last class, before they graduate. As a graduation present of sorts, Zimit proposes that they all take part in one final thought experiment.
What is a thought experiment? Simply put, it is the mental enactment of a poser of a question, such as the above. The premise of this particular experiment is simple: there is an impending nuclear attack, and the students must select ten of them to take shelter and reboot the human race after things have settled down a year later. Problem is, there’s twenty one of them, each assigned with different characteristics and personalities. The students must then decide for themselves which of their own they should keep, and which they should…not.
I suppose the fairly eclectic cast, which reads like a Who’s Who of “Oh yeah, I remember him/her/shim in that film”, was picked to reflect the topography of an international school. The most prominent of the lot is Bonnie Wright. She portrayed Georgina in this film but is more widely recognised as Ginny Weasly from the Harry Potter films. Fans of the Spy Kids movies may also remember Daryl Sabara, who is all grown up here.
The two leads, however, are Petra (Sophie Lowe) and her boyfriend, James (Rhys Wakefield). How do we know this? Well, the first scene of the film had both of them in bed together. The apparent rule outside of horror films is that those involved in saucy scenes are the most important characters (in horror films, they’re likely to meet their maker first). I didn’t really find it all that realistic (where are their parents?), but the livelihood of international students in Jakarta is not an area I particularly specialise in.
Though he didn’t really partake in any similar activities, we could also consider Zimit as one of the leads. Given his age, his appears to be the most important character in this respect, but it is somewhat unfortunate that we don’t know much more about him. Even the revelation near the end of the film does little to uplift his character, this narrative and the film as a whole; if anything, it degraded this film to the sinetron level its co-producer SCTV is used to. His performance, however, is more than passable as an audition to play the role of Benedict Cumberbatch’s sibling in a future film, so perhaps that’s all she needed to write.
He is not alone in this regard, for many of the performances here appear to lack a deeper reading beyond the shallowest of levels. Perhaps it is the intention of the director to show younglings in such performances, but what I saw was a group of actors and actresses who failed to truly emotionally engage me. They don’t seem to…care. Whether it is an impending nuclear apocalypse or the possibility of having to eat their friends to survive, I fail to note enough of a difference to effect a bigger meaning.
Again, at this point, I wonder whether I am being cruel and shallow in my thinking. In my opinion, the answer is no, for this shallowness carried through to the story development itself. As mentioned earlier, each of the students are assigned a specific role, such as poet, gelato maker, engineer, and even a United States senator (because only their rules are worth being upheld in a post-apocalyptic world. Duh).
However, we don’t really see much of these different levels of expertise being displayed in one form or another, even though they appear to be key in determining who lives and who dies. For example, Petra is the assigned engineer, but we don’t see any real form of engineering take place. Certainly not the kind that makes the engineer more important than…a harpist, who was not as accepted because he lacks a harp; the minute a student reveals himself to be a poet, Zimit shot him dead. The arts and their friends, it seems, is not deemed worthy enough, even if, to paraphrase the late Mr Robin Williams, they give us something to live for.
A certain balance was achieved near the film’s end, but by that point…it was my turn to no longer care. This is to do with the film’s basic premise: ultimately they are all playing out a largely imagined situation with no real implications any which way. A key scene in ‘The Matrix’ was when Neo, upon realising that he can bleed from being punished inside the Matrix, was informed by Morpheus that the body cannot live without the mind; even though it was all ‘simulated’ in a virtual reality, it had mortal consequences in real life. This film did not have that, and it made me feel like the whole thing just didn’t really matter.
I didn’t care that these kids appears so detached from the real world so as to have indulging themselves in pointless exercises. I didn’t care for a film that throws out lines like, “We believe what we feel, rather than what we see” like they’re golden nuggets of wisdom the audience are not likely to realise and appreciate without pretentious films such as this.
In addition to the initial premise, I was intrigued by the setting of this film in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia, but beyond a number of scenes probably shot in less than a week, everything else could have been done inside a studio, and we wouldn’t be any wiser for it.
Which is probably a good way of summing up this film. The whole thing petered out way before the halfway point, simply because… nothing matters. Is that a part of their philosophical deliberations, that nothing matters in this life? The director John Huddles may well have intended it as such, and I appreciate that the making of this film may be more challenging than usual, but the development and execution of what was an interesting idea to begin with leaves me none the wiser for having wasted my time with it.
Fikri is sure the time will come when others will hentam his films.
Featured image credit: Liberty Voice