Filmmakers could do worse than emulating Stanley Kubrick or Gus Van Sant right out of the gate. Both directors (and a dash of provocateur Larry Clark) are a clear influence upon writer/director Antonio Campos, whose unsettling debut Afterschool relies heavily upon a chilly, dispassionate tone, glacial pacing and a clinical style. This approach befits a story about a teenaged boarding school student, Robert (Ezra Miller), who's something of a social outcast. He spends his days wallowing in some of the roughest stuff the Internet has to offer -- graphic porn, grim clips of violence -- and generally avoiding his Bryton Academy classmates.
He drifts along, until he witnesses a horrifying tragedy that casts a pall over his school, sending the adults in charge -- personified by Mr. Burke (Michael Stuhlbarg, late of A Serious Man) -- into lockdown and counseling mode. Robert seems strangely unaffected by his gruesome experience, and volunteers, along with pseudo-girlfriend Amy (Addison Timlin), to create a memorial video for the students affected by the incident. It's only when the faculty view Robert's finished product that they begin to suspect something may be awry.
Afterschool lingers after the credits roll, in part because Campos views his protagonist dispassionately. He offers no answers to the many questions raised and intimates that an entire generation, weaned on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr, may be heading down a very similar, psychologically destructive path. Does immersion in an Internet culture, at the expense of healthy human interaction, breed irrevocably damaged individuals, numb to normalcy and feeling? It's just one of the many weighty ideas Campos tackles in this stylish, unnervingly provocative work.
The cast performs admirably -- Rosemarie DeWitt, of Rachel Getting Married fame, shines briefly in a thankless, nigh faceless role -- although Afterschool succeeds in large part due to Ezra Miller's disaffected, borderline androgynous turn as Robert. His face an often slack mask of disinterest and detachment, Miller creates a chillingly believable portrait of teenage confusion and simmering unease.
Although cinephiles will undoubtedly be distracted by writer/director Antonio Campos's vigorous assimilation of various influences, but look past the homage to see what the filmmaker has truly wrought: a frightening, wholly plausible glimpse of what our web-addled world may have in store. Afterschool is a ferociously accomplished debut, one marking Campos as a genuine cinematic talent worth keeping an eye on.
Afterschool arrives on DVD with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Although writer/editor/director Antonio Campos and director of photography Jody Lee Lipes compose some truly breathtaking shots, which are rendered without visual defect here, there are also less pleasing elements incorporated into the film. The cellphone and Internet videos, along with the "student-shot" digital video, are of inferior quality but intentionally so.
The English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is as crucial to Afterschool as its visual representation. Campos makes sure dialogue and sound effects are heard clearly and crisply, free from distortion or drop-out. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Afterschool is loaded with extras, many of which provide insight along with a look behind the scenes at the making of this disturbing film. Campos, Lipes and producer Josh Mono sit for a commentary track, which delves into technical details, as well as some of the film's themes. It's an amiable, informative chat that deepens an already intense work. A pair of trailers for the film is included, as is a trio of "cellphone videos" (all presented in fullscreen and running 1:15, :36 and :41, respectively) that replay the film's pivotal moment from different angles. A storyboard gallery and poster gallery is on the disc, along with six deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) that run anywhere from 12 minutes, 44 seconds to one minute, 36 seconds.
Elsewhere on the DVD, "Virgil" outtakes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) are offered as a three minute, 15 second montage. Campos's short film, The Last 15 (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen), is here and runs 17 minutes, 31 seconds. "Stuhlbarg Uncut" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is five minutes of the actor from a scene late in the film. A five minute, 10 second interview with actor Ezra Miller (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is startling only in that he is a far cheerier person in real life. A handful of promos and videos, briefly glimpsed in the finished film, are presented in their entirety (in anamorphic widescreen) to round out the disc.
Filmmakers could do worse than emulating Stanley Kubrick or Gus Van Sant right out of the gate. Both directors (and a dash of provocateur Larry Clark) are a clear influence upon writer/director Antonio Campos, whose unsettling debut Afterschool relies heavily upon a chilly, dispassionate tone, glacial pacing and a clinical style. Although cinephiles will undoubtedly be distracted by Campos's vigorous assimilation of various influences, but look past the homage to see what the filmmaker has truly wrought: a frightening, wholly plausible glimpse of what our web-addled world may have in store. Afterschool is a ferociously accomplished debut, one marking Campos as a genuine cinematic talent worth keeping an eye on. Recommended.