Home | Review Archive | The Bucket 'Blog | Screening Log | Film Festival Coverage | Contact Danny



Starring: Erza Miller, Addison Timlin, Emory Cohen, Rosemarie DeWitt

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: T. Sean Durkin, Josh Mond
Written by: Antonio Campos

Distributor: IFC Films

As seen at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival:

     While it looks a lot like a thoughtful and edgy auteur piece on the surface, Antonio Campos’ Afterschool is actually no more profound than your average episode of “The Dr. Phil Show” when it comes to exploring the YouTube generation’s alleged emotional disconnect and hopeless complexity. Strangely enough, the film seems to be catching on with critics—the seminal Mike D’Angelo named it his favorite 2008 debut—but one has to assume the hip subtext has blinded them. And even so, one has to wonder why said raving critics don’t recognize how derivative Afterschool is of Gus Van Sant’s similarly-themed (but far superior) Elephant.

     The film follows Robert (Erza Miller), an insecure, bottled-up teenager who can’t relate to the other kids at his Northeast prep school. Perhaps this is because they know he spends his days watching violent porn videos on the Internet, blowing his load to the sight of women getting strangled and other charming things. Perhaps it’s because his roommate deals drugs. Or perhaps, as the movie would like us to think, it’s because modern technology and social structures in America have singlehandedly turned him into a basket case.

     Despite Robert’s social issues, his attractive partner on a school film project, Amy (Addison Timlin), inexplicably makes advances toward him. The story, however, takes a radical turn when Robert, filming footage for said project, witnesses popular female twin classmates die in what’s later found to be a drug overdose, camera rolling. His abnormal reaction to the incident—not calling for help as the girls cough up blood and then behaving disturbingly around the bodies—seems to alert the clueless school staff to the fact that Robert’s probably more than a little effed up, but they choose to ignore this in typical bureaucratic fashion. His assigned therapy is to make the memorial film that will be shown at an assembly commemorating the girls.

     For a film so contemporary and distinctly young in subject and in style—writer/director Campos is only 25—Afterschool adopts a puzzlingly bleak attitude towards the present teenage generation. It’s more than a little ironic that Campos’ assault on the YouTube era could not have been made without modern technology. The film’s central thesis seems to be that new media, especially Internet pornography, allow troubled youth to explore dark emotions that attract them and hence lead to a more detached, problematic society. While I think this is a bullshit assertion to begin with, Afterschool does itself no favors by evidencing the message through an unredeemed loser of a main character. Robert is so screwed up that it’s hard to believe he wasn’t a victim of child abuse and, in turn, wouldn’t have reached his breaking-point without YouTube, at any other time in history.

     One could argue that the movie merely seeks to explore how new media affect one disturbed individual and not make the aforementioned blanket-judgments about the 21st Century world. If this is the case, the film is even less effective because, when not viewed as a human hyperbole or a device to communicate broader themes, Robert is completely unbelievable. Certainly, there were screwed up kids like Robert at my high school, but they weren’t so removed from reality that they wouldn’t yell for help if they saw two girls dying in a corridor.

     One wonders if the film is actually more personal than its writer/director would admit. If Robert is indeed a version of Campos, then the filmmaker’s motivations make a lot more sense. Could Afterschool actually be little more than an F-you to Campos’ own film teacher who, like Robert’s in the movie, criticized his crude attempts at the avant-garde because they weren’t narrative or sentimental enough? (Robert’s tribute stylistically resembles Afterschool and inspires a big “What was that!?” from the instructor, who then cuts it into the video equivalent of a Hallmark greeting card for the actual presentation.) Could Campos’ own awkward lack of luck with the ladies at his prep school be the reason he had the beautiful Amy so much as befriend Robert? These are big character accusations that I probably shouldn’t be making—apologies to Campos if they’re untrue, of course—but the movie’s critique of contemporary American society reeks so deeply of self-idealization and catharsis that this seems like the only logical explanation. With a concept that’s only provocative in theory, not execution, Afterschool exploits its teenage characters and its violence to form a morally reprehensible vision of the age in which we live.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.25.2009

Screened on: 3.18.2009 at the Alamo South Lamar in Austin, TX.


Afterschool is Not Rated and runs 120 minutes.

Back to Home