Whoa. Where do I begin? Afterschool, the super small indie that barely got a theatrical release, is a rare film that transcends a movie theatre screen (or a TV set) and knocks the wind right out of you. I watched this film via Comcast OnDemand because I liked its trippy preview. And damn am I glad I did.
Let’s get plot out of the way: a lonely teenager at a swanky private high school enrolls in an audio/video afterschool program. His first assignment is to create a nice promo video for the school. One day, shooting B-roll of a hallway, he videotapes the school’s two most popular girls dying from bad drugs. After, everyone has questions. The cops, the head master, the parents, the fellow students. Everyone.
So there's your brief dissection of the plot. But that isn’t really what the movie is about. No way.
Afterschool, better than any film from recent memory, successfully displays several pertinent teenage issues. Obsession with money, with drugs, with being popular, with getting laid. The need to feel wanted by your parents, be respected by your teachers, bend the truth for a little advancement, and so on. The film goes deeper, of course, touching on issues such as upper-class favoritism and the fascination (domination) of the internet over our youths.
While these themes may seem similar to other American-made films, I haven’t even started talking about how the movie is presneted. Its slow, deliberate beauty. Its delicate, off-kilter pace. Know it going in: this is an odd looking film. Young director Antonio Campos (he was 24 when he made it) often shoots out of focus, out of frame, out of mind. A face will be in extreme close-up, but we may only see them from the eyes up. Many shots are unbroken and extended, the camera lurking back and forth in conversation, never breaking away the tension. In writing, these shots sound annoying, but they aren’t at all. Campos has successfully found a way to deliver a simple story using unconventional methods. It’s Michael Haneke’s Caché, mixed with Christian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, mixed with Gas Van Sant’s Elephant. Pure indie bliss.
I’ve never heard of Campos or most of the actors in the film. But there isn’t one second of one performance that I did not completely believe. The film’s focus, Robert, is played by Ezra Miller, who gives one of the most haunting performances of the year. There’s a lot here, for both sexes, to identify with. Several times during the movie I thought to myself, “Wow, that is exactly how a 15-year-old kid thinks.” There are scenes that feel so personal that we actually feel like we are intruding. We are eavesdropping in on a conversation we aren’t supposed to hear, or an event we aren’t supposed to see.
You probably haven’t heard of Afterschool, and for good reason. It only made $3,000 at one New York theatre, it stars no one you know and it doesn’t have a scheduled DVD release date. This is a real shame, because this is one of the best movies of this or any year. Simply put: Afterschool is best, most realistic film about adolescence that I’ve ever seen. It’s an all-encompassing, unsettling, all together remarkable film that you’re likely to never see. If you have OnDemand, rent it. You won’t be sorry. This will be in my Top 10 of 2009. A+