Internet videos and parental neglect spark deadly disassociation in Afterschool, a film whose long takes, languid pacing, and impersonal portrait of adolescence reveal a deep debt to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. High-schooler Rob (Ezra Miller) likes to watch web clips of giggling tykes, cats playing the piano, students fighting, and violent porn, all in order to come into contact with honest emotion otherwise foreign to him at his prep school, where he’s disliked by most and where he’s been sent by parents who’d rather not deal with their kid’s problems. The effect of such pastimes, however, isn’t to bring him closer to people but to amplify his disconnection, thereby further complicating and corrupting his already mixed-up feelings about acceptance, friendship, love and sex. It’s a point director Campos conveys early on through both Rob staring blankly at his computer screen in the dark, as well as via knowingly stylized film and video-shot compositions – such as those in which background images are fuzzy while Rob remains focused in the foreground, or one that features his head at the bottom of a staircase, the long legs of hot girls towering over him – that spatially separate him from his surroundings. Once made, however, Afterschool proceeds to regurgitate its thesis with all the grace of a lumberjack leveling a redwood. Eventually coming to involve Rob filming, by chance, two popular seniors overdosing on rat poison-laced drugs, as well as his maiden, porn-influenced sexual encounter with a classmate, the narrative is mainly content to simply dawdle over its rather transparent, Michael Haneke-ish arguments about voyeurism (it’s damaging, and the audience is guilty of it), privilege (it’s bad), and the ramifications of modern media on interpersonal relationships (it’s even worse). Campos’ drawn-out camerawork is full of shots in which people are off-center or partially obscured, yet his one-note film exhibits little of Van Sant’s otherworldly aesthetic aura, thus making one wish his disaffected characters would finally just drop off the screen altogether.
(2008 New York Film Festival)