Hot Tickets: Isolation and Afterschool

Director Antonio Campos and the cast of Afterschool (photo: Godlis)

Coined previously on the filmlinc blog as “the first film from the YouTube generation”, 25 year-old director Antonio Campos’s prep-school drama Afterschool is perhaps best described as just that. The film follows sophomore student Robert, introverted and lonely and unable to connect with his classmates. The film opens at a point where Robert has nearly completed a full withdrawal, barely able to eke out a cry for help over the phone to his goading, guilt-piling mother; Robert feels lost, and has no way to acknowledge his loneliness other than to conclude that he is “a bad person”. When the accidental drug-overdose death of two popular senior girls (appropriately peripheral to the camera beforehand) takes place, Robert is the first to find them; what follows is a coordinated spiral of mourning on different planes, from the school’s traditional response of a drug crackdown to the internalizing of guilt felt among Robert, his roommate Dave, and their mutual friend/sometimes-girlfriend Amy.

Campos certainly knows how to draw to life the sense of isolation and ennui of adolescence, particularly in such a charged atmosphere as a preparatory school. In fact, the no-way-out anxiety of such an atmosphere and its direct effect on Robert left me squirming in my chair. Robert is given an opportunity to craft the memorial video after the deaths, and in a startling scene of honesty he shows to the headmaster exactly his vision of what this memorial should be; free of the empty “we’ll miss you” jargon of students outside of the girls’ popular circle, Robert creates an introspective and slightly morbid memoriam that only gains the ire of the school administration. Thus is perpetuated the outcast cycle Robert can’t seem to break from.

In terms of story, Campos is treading a well-worn path; it’s his delivery that provides a new take on the material. His directorial choices are highly stylized, at times fusing the haphazard film prowess of an amateur posting to YouTube with the steady full-framed eye of a feature film director. These choices are direct and purposeful, and at times I felt very conscious of the director choosing the nontraditional composition of his shots. Campos often uses long and unbroken takes, and is unafraid to allow his camera to list in and out of the frame for his characters, sometimes going so far as to have speaking characters halved at the edges or bottom of the screen. The screenplay, at crucial points, shows some beautifully lucid moments of inspiration; although at times the film feels scattershot as to its narrative direction, Campos takes care to bring both visual and story-based elements full circle, notably a wink at the low-grade cash-cow corruption at the prep school’s highest echelons.

Buy tickets: Wed Oct 8: 9

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