Afterschool starts off with a montage of Youtube clips that we’re all familiar with. A cat playing a piano, Saddam Hussein being hung, a father making his baby laugh. We’re shown a girl having sex and being humiliated on a porn website, and then meet the kid who’s watching it.
Rob is a sophomore at an elite NY boarding school and just doesn’t fit in. He’s a middle class kid in the land of the rich, and it doesn’t help that he’s extremely socially awkward. He spends most of his free time looking at video clips or porn on the internet, things that only seem to further push him away from understanding other people. The usual quick fixes (drugs, either from the school nurse or student drug dealers) don’t interest him and he becomes more of a recluse because of it.
Obviously obsessed with filmmaking himself he’s enrolled in the school’s AV program and is in the middle of filming a hallway when a two popular twin girls smash through the door, bleeding and screaming. Rob walks over unsure of what to do, and one of the the girls bleeds to death in his arms while the film continues to roll. It turns out that the girls died from snorting coke that was laced with rat poison, and the school and its inhabitants will forever be changed.
Poor Rob was already a mess before, but this could be the breaking point.
Afterschool draws immediate comparisons to the works of Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke, with all the style of the Elephant and the themes of Benny’s Video. It’s framed just like the former, in fact, and the slow pace and sense of dread you get is similar although there’s no big payoff at the end. You could call it a slow burn, if that burn led to anything. The film is completely filled with almost uncomfortably long shots that seem to almost be a criticism of our diminished attention spans.
But it also happens to be fairly predictable and you feel like the director could have made his point a little tighter. It’s one of those films that seems to think it’s a lot deeper than it really is- something I hated about Elephant, as well.
We all understand how desensitized we’re becoming as a society, how we are starting to care less and less about the loss of privacy. How sharing with strangers has become more important than living for ourselves. Have you been to a concert recently? You’ll just see a wave of people filming it with their goddamn cell phones instead of just experiencing what’s going on for themselves. Nothing is real anymore unless it’s captured on video or tweeted over the internet. The film realizes this- we don’t even really get a good look at the protagonist until well into the film, and then only through a camera.
The themes here are well worth exploring, it’s just the way it handles them that will turn most people off. It’s the kind of film that will get you talking, provided you don’t walk out of it before the end.
A truly interesting film that’s a bit more of a chore to sit through than it should be.
Afterschool is now playing in NYC and is available On Demand via IFC In Theaters.