What was that?
No, seriously, on any level, what was that? After the Dark is a movie that is bad on the level of The Room, with at least one performance so fundamentally terrible that it does rival Tommy Wiseau. I could not tell you why anything that happens in the movie happens. I could not begin to figure out any character motivations. And as individual points, I could tell you what happens on a scene-by-scene basis… I but I could not even begin to explain how those events actually form a plot. The movie is completely impenetrable, and yet breezily thinks it is portraying… something… deep.
The movie is guilty of what I like to call a double dutch narrative, which is when the fictional characters in a work are consumed by a fictional work within the context of the fictional world they live in. So the narrative skips back and forth between the fiction-within-the-fiction and the fiction itself. Sometimes that can be used satirically or to illustrate larger themes and points (such as the pirate comic in Watchmen). But a lot of the time it simply means the fictional characters care about something completely ridiculous, with zero stakes and is alienated from the audience because it is multiple layers of fiction on top of each other.
Okay. So. The movie is about a philosophy class (in the last five minutes of the movie they explain at random that the class are foreign students studying in Jakarta for some reason that is never made clear in the movie itself). It is their last day of school, and they are talking about thought experiments. So their professor, who is inexplicably an utter asshole, decides to try a new thought experiment. Each of the students (and he himself) will pull a card from a box with an occupation on it. In the scenario they have ten minutes before a nuclear war in order to pick ten people from their twenty person class to live in a radiation proof bunker for a year and then attempt to survive the post-apocalyptic world.
Which is a little convoluted, but okay. Noted genius Petra at first declines to participate in the experiment, but agrees when the professor threatens to lower her boyfriend’s grade if she leaves. This is the first of many examples of people taking this entire exercise way, way more seriously than it deserves. Why was she going to leave? Literally all that is going to happen is a debate about what jobs would be the best in a post-apocalyptic world? Secondly, she even flat out tells the professor that his threat is completely against the school’s policy (because, duh) and he’d be up against a review board if he tried it. So literally all of this is nonsense already.
At this point the movie switches to dramatizing the scenario… which while far more interesting, isn’t actually dramatic. The whole point of the scenario is to debate philosophical merits of each profession. Which already falls apart because the professor insists that they can only use a rational approach to life after a year. So they can’t (and don’t) debate any ethical or moral approaches other than “this person would be useful.” And the entire process is simply an up or down vote on each person, so we barely even get a moment of discussion of whether the person would be useful.
So we are already two levels deep into nonsense, but here’s where everything gets even more off the rails. Within the scenario the professor gets a gun from the bunker and murders the people voted out of the bunker, so the bunker people decide to shut the bunker with him outside and he reveals his job (which he kept hidden) was as the builder of bunkers, so only he has the exit code. And so they live out the year in the bunker only to die.
What? No, seriously, what? Who decided any of this? Who is in control and how is any of this happening? WHO IS NARRATING THIS! This is a fictional scenario. Did the professor literally just say, “I grab a gun and murder these people over here?” Did Petra just say, “I shut the door before you get in?” Why is there even a narrative after the vote? Literally the best guess I could make is that the professor decided before the scenario decided that there was a right answer and so would tell them if they got the combination of people right…. which sort of defeats the point of having a philosophical discussion about the scenario.
But this is where everything goes even more bananas, because they decide to rerun the scenario. This time everyone is given a secondary trait, and in the case of Petra’s boyfriend he is now a farmer who happens to be gay (this is important later). So, everything goes the same, except that a slightly different group of people wind up in the bunker. But where as the dramatization of the first scenario could just have been some overly descriptive versions of consequences… now the dramatization is in full on soap opera. The ones who are not picked run to some jeeps and attempt to out run the nuclear blasts, only to be incinerated (who decided all these details? Did someone literally just say “we run to some jeeps and try to out run the blast!” and someone else says, “Nope, you die?”).
Petra’s gay farmer boyfriend assured the class that he could just have sex with a woman even if he wasn’t attracted to her outside of the dramatization of the scenario, but in the dramatization she walks in on him having sex with another guy in the bunker… How does that even work? Did one of them say, “We’re having sex now” or did Petra say, “I walk in on them having sex?” Does this movie realize this isn’t real to these people? Well, Petra’s boyfriend explains, in the dramatization, that he couldn’t have sex with a woman. Which, okay, it directly contradicts what he said literally a minute or two ago to the class, but it is the first actual attempt at a philosophical discussion, so I gave it a pass.
But then comes something so bizarre I can’t even comprehend what is supposed to be happening. The teacher declares no one has gotten pregnant and so they have to all switch sexual partners, one of the students refuses to, and so he gets a gun and, I guess, threatens to rape her. So a boy in her who was hiding in the corner of the room fights him and eventually stabs him in the ear with a pencil. And the teacher, bleeding, goes to the bunker door and opens it killing everyone.
…How did any of that happen? Why did any of that happen? What could possibly motivate this teacher to pretend threaten a student with rape in a fictional scenario…? Who decided no one got pregnant? How could the boy hide in a completely fictional room? This is a fictional scenario that is being made up in a classroom.
No, seriously, I want to see what actually happened in the classroom without the dramatization. Because that has to be unquestionably bizarre, with a lot of “well actually I was doing this the whole time!” type statements.
And then they do the scenario a third time.
This movie makes no sense. At one point Petra’s boyfriend asks the teacher why he made him a gay farmer. That it seems an extraordinarily petty act of revenge. The movie gives no answer because there can be no answer. Nothing that happens makes sense unless you consider that the story they are, effectively, writing is something deeply important… but it isn’t. It is nothing. It isn’t even a proper story, it is a silly scenario that features characters with two features.
And then there is Petra. Petra the philosophy genius. Petra who every single character in the movie is so invested in her grades that it is an overriding theme. I don’t know if asking Sophie Lowe to do an American accent is what did it… but she turns in one of the worst performances I have ever seen. She is vacuous, vacant, dead behind the eyes. She manages to convey a profound lack of thought in every wood line. I don’t know why they didn’t just switch her out for Bonnie Wright who has all the spunk and verve and intelligence that Lowe utterly lacks in her performance.
This movie is so bad….