Director: Antonio Campos
Screenplay: Antonio Campos
Starring: Ezra Miller, Jeremy Allen White, Emory Cohen
Producer: Josh Mond, Sean Durkin, Victor Aaron
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
First time director Antonio Campos was only 24 when he made Afterschool, a disturbing look at the YouTube generation and how they deal with tragedy on top of the usual pressures of teenage life.
Ezra Miller (We Need To Talk About Kevin) stars as Robert, a loner student in an exclusive prep school who has an unhealthy addiction to online videos and hardcore pornography. He joins the school's AV club in an attempt to get closer to Amy (Addison Timlin), a girl he has a crush on, and is assigned to produce a school promo video. During this assignment he accidentally captures the dying moments of two popular senior girls who have overdosed on badly mixed cocaine. The film then follows Robert as he tries to deal with what he witnessed and the varying reactions of those around him as his video project is changed to producing a memorial for the dead girls.
Afterschool is not an easy watch, especially the first half. Opening with a range of YouTube clips beginning with the inane and building to show Saddam Hussein's execution and the bloody aftermath of some sort of Middle Eastern conflict, you know you're not in for an easy ride. To rub salt in the wounds we then move on to see Robert masturbating over a dark, humiliating hardcore pornography video. This uneasy tone runs throughout the film and there is very little light amongst the darkness.
This tone is maintained through some amazingly assured direction from Campos, who is clearly a talent to be followed in the future. It's very consciously 'arty' which will put off many. Shots are long and lingering with the performers regularly framed on the fringes or corners of the screen and rarely head on. This of course distances the viewer from the protagonists, which is something that is often a problem with art-house features, creating cold films that are difficult to warm to. Here however, due to the themes of teenage disillusionment and detachment it works perfectly. It does mean it's hard to care for many of the characters, especially since none of them are particularly likeable anyway, but it does work very well given the content.
As well as the visual artistry on display, the performances are largely very strong. The purposefully muddy soundtrack makes their (seemingly mainly improvised) dialogue feel a bit 'mumbly' at times, but the teenage actors are still convincing and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), Gary Wilmes and David Costabile impress in the few adult roles in the film. Miller is fantastic considering his age, lack of experience (this was his debut) and the fact that he got a bit of flack from some critics for his performance in Kevin.
Where the film struggles though is in what it's trying to say. Having such a serious and 'art-house' feel, it needs the content to back it up and generally it succeeds. In dealing with Robert and his detachment with the world around him the film works very well, but it also seems to be trying to say a lot about YouTube culture and all that entails and on this front it falls a bit flat. By opening with the clips I described earlier and ending on a surreal moment where Robert believes he himself is being filmed, it's clearly Campos' aim to target the proliferation of online videos and their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, they don't make enough of an obvious impact on the story to feel like he's trying to say anything about them. The clips just seem to be there.
This wasn't enough to stop me appreciating the film a great deal though. As mentioned, Robert's story alone was enough for me and felt like a genuinely realistic yet artfully portrayed depiction of a teenager unable to keep a handle on the difficulties and tragedies surrounding him or control his own desires. It's a difficult watch and will not suit most tastes, but for me it was a meticulously well crafted film from a director who's sure to make something truly exceptional in the future.
Afterschool is out now on DVD, released by Network Releasing. Picture and sound quality are fine. There are quite a lot of features, but they aren't particularly captivating. You get 53 minutes (!?) of deleted scenes. I must admit I didn't watch them all. They're solid enough, but deleted scenes rarely interest me – they're usually cut for a reason. At the end of these are some outtakes, which are odd to see following such a serious film. You also get the complete version of the mobile phone clips in the film, which are a little unnecessary as what is shown in the film itself is pretty complete anyway. The you get 26 minutes of 'teacher testimonials' which are fictional interviews with the 'staff' meant to be part of the school promo Robert is involved with making. These aren't particularly engaging to be honest and I skimmed through after a couple of minutes. On top of this you get various trailers and an image gallery.
It's nice to get a host of features on an independent film like this, but they show little of the filmmaking process and aren't particularly entertaining either so they didn't interest me I'm afraid.