After the Dark (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Twenty-one select students, all high achievers, attend school in Jakarta to study philosophy led by Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy). It is the final session until everyone must return to their respective countries and so Mr. Zimit poses a thought experiment: a nuclear holocaust has occurred on a global level and there is a bunker nearby. However, the bunker can accommodate only ten people for a year. If more than ten were to live in the bunker, everyone would be sure to die of hypoxia. The students must decide which ten must live in order to repopulate the planet and reestablish civilization.
“After the Dark,” written and directed by John Huddles, has a whole lot of characters but fails to pose enough thought-provoking or challenging questions. I took only one philosophy course as an undergraduate student in biological sciences and even that class—though focusing mainly on elementary concepts, ideas, important figures of the discipline, and how to ask or phrase questions—is more entertaining than having to sit through a hundred minutes of what comes off as an expensive rehearsal.
One of the main problems is the screenplay coming alive too late in the game. The first three-quarters is so self-serious and self-important at times that it does not give enough room to welcome those who may not be interested in philosophy. This is why Chips (Daryl Sabara), a supporting character, earns the title for being the most memorable of the bunch. There is only one sequence that features a character really having fun with what is being discussed or tackled. The less is said about it, the better. I found it to be imaginative, full of energy, and very amusing. Why doesn’t the rest of the picture function on that level?
A sort of romance lies in the center. I guess James (Rhys Wakefield) and Petra (Sophie Lowe) are supposed to be interesting as a couple since each attempt at solving the thought experiment involves the two of them wanting to be together. While Wakefield and Lowe do look good physically as a couple, their characters—when apart—are quite blank. Mr. Zimit considers James to be unworthy of his seat in the classroom while he considers Petra as his brightest student. And yet I was neither convinced that James was less smart compared to the rest of the class nor Petra the most intelligent.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the film never bothers to show the students being really engaged in intense debates with regards to who should make it in the bunker. Scenes where they are supposed to be showing how they reason are edited so quickly that we never get a chance to take the time and appreciate the complexities or implications of their arguments. Thus, the students often come off immature and emotional. Why are some of them (Bonnie Wright) taking the thought experiment so personally as if the whole thing weren’t hypothetical?
The visual effects with respect to the nuclear holocaust look cheap. I would rather have not seen atomic bombs exploding or fire devouring the land. Why not adopt a simpler and more elegant approach: letting the audience imagine a nuclear apocalypse instead of having to spell everything out as if we had not seen nuclear destruction in other movies prior. Therefore, not only do ideas come across shallow but so do the images. The writer-director’s execution is so poor that the film cripples the brain and shuts the eyelids.
The Clinic (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Cameron (Andy Whitfield) and Beth (Tabrett Bethell), an expecting couple, decide to get a motel room in the middle of the Australian outback en route to visit Beth’s mother for Christmas. In middle of the night, Beth sleeping soundly, Cameron looks for food places around the area. When he returns, however, his fiancée is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Beth, naked and covered in ice, wakes up in a bathtub and no longer pregnant. Someone has performed a cesarian on her. Within a few feet is a chair and a bathrobe with “DCVIII” stitched on it.
Written and directed by James Rabbitts, “The Clinic” is an effectively creepy horror-thriller with several genuinely creative ideas and so it does not have to rely on gore to keep its audience engaged. The abattoir is an excellent choice of setting in that it is a place where animals are sent to be killed. Every room, when not completely dark, is given appropriate lighting, enough to overlook hidden horrors only to be revealed upon closer inspection. The rooms filled with hooks and chains are equally threatening as the rooms with nothing but a table and baby formulas on top of it. There are plenty of moments when I caught myself wishing a character would slow down and consider if a certain area has traps.
It is apparent that this is a sort of game to someone. At times it is almost too easy and too convenient to have clues out in the open which made me feel more anxious. Beth learns eventually that she is not the only woman who is kidnapped and mutilated. There are three others (Freya Stafford, Clare Bowen, Sophie Lowe) who wish to get some answers as to why they are taken and what has happened to their babies. When they scour the various areas of the slaughterhouse, there is not a dull moment because there is constantly a new danger to be faced, from their own fears and limitations to secrets of the compound.
I suppose the film can be criticized for a lack of common sense considering that the fence surrounding the slaughterhouse could have been overcome if the women had taken the time to look around and find weapons strong enough to cut through the metal. Personally, I would have decided to climb the fence barefoot–for grasp and better balance–after finding several cloths and rags for the barbed wire above. But then again what woman, having just gotten a C-section, can climb a tall fence? What made me overlook the relatively easy solutions is the writer-director’s focus in creating good situational horror after the characters decide to abandon the idea of escape.
What does the Roman numerals on their robes mean? When or if they find their babies and/or captor(s), what then? Less effective are the scenes involving the men. While I liked Whitfield’s presence and levels of intensity he brings to the table, he isn’t given much to do other than to portray a guy intent on finding his fiancée. Further, the motel attendant (Boris Brkic) and the cop (Marshall Underwood) are uninspired stereotypes. They seem like they are plucked off from less ambitious slasher flicks and it becomes a bore to watch them go through the motions. I couldn’t wait for the camera to turn its attention back on the women to watch what they are willing to go through to finally hold their newborns in their arms.
Road Train (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
A camping trip in the outback proved far from enjoyable when Craig (Bob Morley), Nina (Sophie Lowe), Marcus (Xavier Samuel), and Liz (Georgina Haig) were driven off the highway by a road train, very similar to a gargantuan semi truck. One with a broken arm while the others remained relatively unscathed, they noticed that the truck that seemingly harmed them on purpose did not simply drive away. There was a possibility that the whole thing might have been an accident so Marcus and Liz decided to approach the truck for help. When the couple got there, however, there was no driver even though they key was in the ignition. Written by Clive Hopkins, “Road Train” must be given credit for trying something new. Instead of giving us yet another blade-wielding masked serial killer hoping to kidnap and torture city kids vacationing in the outback, it touched upon the idea that perhaps the road train was a conscious being. Its problem, unfortunately, was it failed to delve into its premise deeply enough and it took far too long to reveal to us the contents of the truck’s containers. Its first fifteen minutes were inspired by the somewhat understated mood and texture of Richard Franklin’s “Roadgames” mixed with the situational horror of Victor Salva’s “Jeepers Creepers.” The highway chase did not look especially fast but it managed to grab onto several levels of tension. By slowing down the action and avoiding manic, dizzying quick cuts for as much as possible, we had a chance to observe the manner in which the massive truck slithered along the narrow two-lane road as it pursued the mouse-like jeep. The director, Dean Francis, had good timing as to when to place us inside the jeep versus outside of it. Conversely, when the action was stripped away, it remained interesting. I enjoyed the dynamic among the four. For a while, they were allowed to do whatever they felt like they needed to in order to find help and survive. Each of them had a dominating surface personality: Craig was the coolheaded alpha male; Nina was the awkward fourth wheel considering the others were very close friends; Marcus was prone to giving sarcastic remarks given the anger he tried so hard to suppress; and Liz was the tough chick, always on the defensive. The screenplay seemed aware that its characters had something good brewing among them so it was smart to abstain from killing them off for as long as possible. Still, everything connected to that mysterious truck and its containers. We were able to look inside eventually but not enough times that felt sufficient. I wished the writing had been more willing to go to the extremes by being unafraid to introduce really bizarre, ridiculous events, serving as contrast against the beautiful, barren milieu. There were only two or three wide shots that forced us to appreciate the Australia’s unique environment which was a shame. I imagine if “Road Kill” had been much darker, weirder by taking David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” as inspiration, and more efficient with its revelations, it could have been a modern midnight movie favorite.