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    Afterschool not-so-special

    "Afterschool" is an emotionless teen exploitation movie made more "artistic" by being made more boring.


    I'm already anticipating "Afterschool 2: The Return of Robert."

    Written and directed by: Antonio Campos.
    Cast: Ezra Miller, Rosemarie DeWitt, Paul Sparks, Michael Stuhlbarg, Addison Timlin, Gary Wilmes.
    Cinematography: Jody Lipes.
    Edited by: Antonio Campos.
    Cinema Village
    22 E. 12th St.
    (212) 924-3363

    New York Film Festival, 2008
    • Afterschool
    • Happy-Go-Lucky
    • Hunger
    "Afterschool" ends with such a horror-movie cliché — the bad monstery guy turning around and leering straight into the camera so we can see the depth of sequel-worthy badness in his soul — that it feels cut from the worst kind of genre flick and scotch-taped into this arthouse picture developed and premiered at Cannes. Oooh, très creepy!

    Just when you thought it was safe to go to indie cinema, along comes Antonio Campos's blatant attempt to be seen making Serious Art about Serious Issues out of stupid teensploitation ingredients. It's really "Refer Madness" but with a totally chill emotionless vibe for the 2000s.

    Robert (Ezra Miller) is an unexceptional — and in fact, uninteresting — boarding student at the tony Academy for Naughty Mean Rich Kids, where he is miserable because everybody there is naughty and mean. He wants his mom to bring him home, but while waiting for that to never happen he has plenty of time to salve his misery with drugs and online videos.

    You're meant to be shocked that today's youth are so dissolute and disconnected, although the net effect is that there are long periods of nothing interesting going on.  

    Just when he can't stand it anymore, something cool happens to change his mind. ... I mean, bad. Something bad happens. Two of the popular girls sniff some poisoned cocaine and die with blood gushing from their sweet little noses, and our boy Robert happens to be right there with a video camera to detachedly record the deaths.

    Detachment is the theme of the whole movie. We're meant to look at the privileged prep-school brats of today and tut over their outrageous anomie. In spite of school counselors' earnest attempts to relate to them, the teens persist in their own little world of emotionless sex, drugs, Internet time-wasters and death. They have no personalities, but at least they have vices. You're meant to be shocked that today's youth are so dissolute and disconnected, although the net effect is that there are long periods of nothing interesting going on.

    To punctuate this idea visually, the camera is detached from everything it sees, with long takes of people's foreheads and the sides of their faces while they speak. This is what makes it Art. It's both boring and out of the frame.

    To turn the edgy up to 11, Robert makes his own tribute video to the poor pretty girls, which turns out to have all the artistic merit of "Afterschool" itself. It's so self-referential, it must be a touch of brilliance.

    Writer-director Campos ends the film with what's supposed to be a wicked twist, followed by the wicked leer. What he's done is used every avant-garde quirk he can think of to dress up a schlocky not-very-scary movie as a sophisticated psychological masterpiece, the kind where if you don't think it was very good that's probably because you don't understand art. Or maybe you don't care about the decadence of our misguided youth. Regardless, it's guaranteed to be you who don't measure up — never the film! I'm sure many critics will praise "Afterschool," but it is less than it appears.

    OCTOBER 5, 2009

    Reader comments on Afterschool:

  • I feel your review is off   from Susan, Nov 21, 2009

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