Rob (Ezra Miller – star of We Need To Talk About Kevin, hence this money-grabbing re-release) is a rich boy in the tenth grade who has difficulty fitting in. He shares his dorm with a popular boy called Dave, who sells an array of non-specified narcotics to the unsuspecting high school kids. Rob isn’t into all that stuff, though; he just likes to watch disturbing internet clips over and over again, masturbating simultaneously. Who can blame him, eh?
Rob’s obsession with twisted online material ranges from amateur videos of school fights, violent pornography, and other, even more cheerful forms of abuse. Indeed, Afterschool is an uncomfortable viewing experience for the first twenty minutes, as we the audience are forced to join our protagonist in watching this – to use a technical term – weird shit.
However, after a few scenes of Rob’s social struggle, Youtube gang-bangs and phone calls to his mom explaining that he’s ‘not normal’ (sigh), the narrative finally takes form. Rob joins a filmmaking club and is partnered up with Amy (Addison Timlin) an attractive but shy young lady who instantly captures our young hero’s attention. Whilst making a few lame and heavily angled short films together, Rob and Amy’s friendship blossoms along with their teenage horn.
Following an incredibly unnecessary scene of virginity loss, tragedy strikes the well-respected prep school when two of the seniors die from a drug overdose. This scene unfolds through Rob’s handheld camera, ambiguously positioned in the school corridor. With our crazy friend as the main witness and the naïve Principal Burke (Michael Stuhlbarg) refusing to point the finger at any of his thorough bred students, Afterschool delves into subplots of mystery and corruption in the hormone-heavy context of the American school system. To lift the dark cloud at his beloved school, Mr Burke requests that Rob make a memorial video of the dead sisters. But is the angsty, twisted, only-just-sexually-awakened weirdo the best person to helm the creatively sensitive project? What do you think…
As it proves more difficult to affiliate with the characters, engaging with the film in general becomes a challenge. The overuse of panning, placing the actors out of frame and long takes also make the film drag. Although the acting is not exactly bad, the minimalist dialogue and relentless out of focus shots prove that you don’t really need to deliver a line or a facial expression to play a main role in Afterschool.
It would be interesting to see what Afterschool would be like if it were a cheesy, gory, teen horror from the 1990’s…probably a lot more entertaining at least. The self-awareness of Afterschool makes it seem like a low grade, artistic failure trying to present itself in the form of a cult classic. The documentary style is wasted on a film which forces an abstract and vague portrayal of characters, consequently forgetting to involve the audience. In the end you’re just left thinking ‘Why? Why? I could be watching The Faculty or Scream 2, loving life.’