Afterschool plays like a film student’s demo reel of the various ways to signify “alienation”—shallow depth of field, over-lit sterile interiors, ambient sounds of fluorescent light hums, expressionless actors, methodical tracking shots frequently overrunning or catching up to their human subjects. Even the best filmmakers should take care in how they choose to explore new implementations for these overused techniques—Gus Van Sant’s recent Paranoid Park, for example, succeeds at most of the above nearly despite itself—but you’d think Afterschool’s 24-year-old first-time feature director Antonio Campos had just discovered them for himself by the way he embarrassingly assaults the viewers with them in order to fashion his astonishingly shallow portrait of teenage disaffection.
As it consistently takes desperate pains to convey, Afterschool isn’t your average Rebel Without a Cause disaffection. No, this is the age of YouTube, and with the film’s opening montage of notable ‘Tube highlights—an adorable cat, the hanging of Saddam Hussein—Campos wishes to announce he’s going straight to the heart of the cultural zeitgeist and its content-be-damned, moral chaos of instant gratification. For a few minutes, this works fine: The next scene, in which prep school student Rob (Ezra Miller) raptly watches a clip from nastycumholes.com of a porn star being teased by an off-screen director and then threatened with strangulation, neatly captures the humor and horror of the woman’s fake come hither and then her genuine fright, as well as the fascination it invokes in a young male viewer.
But when Campos opens up to a widescreen survey of Rob’s environs we’re pummeled with ostentatious, dilettantish art cinema gestures. Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of Afterschool.