As idea pieces go, After the Dark (2013) has more money and polish than the usual indie fare, and while ultimately it falls prey to similar flaws, it’s an interesting and attractive film. In Jakarta, a class full of exceptional students turns up for the last day of philosophy class, run by the dashing Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy). Zimit has one last thought experiment to run past his class: an apocalypse scenario. The students are asked to imagine a world-ending cataclysm, during which they find a bunker that can sustain ten people long enough for the radiation to clear; given random professions, they must decide amongst themselves, using ruthless logic, who among them should be saved for the betterment of the human race. As the dark exercise progresses, however, Zimit’s methods and motives come into question, and the students — led by the class’s brightest light, Petra (Sophie Lowe) — begin to see through and subvert the experiment.
At first After the Dark looks like it’s going to be a dialogue-based bottle show in the vein of Twelve Angry Men or, more on point, the thematically similar Circle. But while conversation drives the plot, the film soon strays from the classroom setting to strikingly dramatize the class’s imaginings. Solid effects, stunning Indonesian scenery, and a polished cinematic style, not to mention an absurdly attractive and diverse cast, make the film a visual feast. But it succeeds on the strength of its ideas, which are somewhat pretentious, but also clever and at times movingly realized. Alas, the mystique is dispelled by some glaring imperfections. The ultimate message is telegraphed, and Lowe’s dreamy expressions and flat affect don’t entirely sell her as the smartest person in the room. But worse are the final scenes, a pair of ill-conceived codas that step rather clumsily on the film’s carefully engineered mood and tone — first with incongruous comedy, then with over-explicated and unnecessary character motivation. It’s unfortunate, because up until then the film casts an agreeable spell, and more satisfying closure was merely a grace note away.