Monday, May 24, 2021

All WASPs Go to Heaven


One of the more interesting, unintentional trends of recent genre films popping up on streaming services has been how shockingly keen even the mediocre ones have been at anticipating parts of the COVID-19 zeitgeist. While much of it is coincidence with a movie just landing in a new context than it was made, it does help elevate some storytelling into something more current.

The Beach House certainly felt that way, and now I'd add After Darkness, a film dated as a 2019 release, though based on now more grown actress Natalia Dyer, I'd wager it was filmed even earlier. The story of a family confined to one house, waiting for an end to their isolation...yes, I think we can all identify.

Quick Plot: Much like Danny Boyle's Sunshine, After Darkness can be introduced with four simple words: our sun is dying. Dark spots have led scientists to declare the end of the world, though many hold out hope that deep underground caves, reserved for the rich and powerful, may provide a safety net for a select few.

The Beatys just might qualify. Patriarch Raymond (Tim Daly) is a stern, rags to riches power player convinced that his past electoral deeds has earned his family a spot. His plan is to wait out a call from his senator pal in his sprawling country estate, complete with a well-stocked food cellar and decades worth of WASPy family tension.

Wife Georgina (Kyra Sedgwick) is heavily medicated and always one missed dose away from breaking down, possibly due to the trauma of her teenage daughter's earlier suicide. Prodigal son Ray has returned with a whole lot of anger for his dad but dedication to youngest sibling Clara, a sweetly naive 15-year-old. Middle brother and grad student Fred surprises his folks by bringing his very pregnant girlfriend Margot, something Raymond is less than cheerful about.

Stuck in sprawling but stifling estate, family tensions heat up as the world begins to freeze. And that's basically it! Based on a poem by Lord Byron (of which some lines are used throughout to frame the acts), After Darkness feels like a stage play, and could easily work in that format. Fernando Diez Barroso's script doesn't linger on the science of the world's demise, and director Batan Silva is clearly here to tell the story of this family, and not the world. As a strategy for a fairly low budget apocalypse, it's pretty sharp.

On the other hand, After Darkness does suffer from a different problem: a poor little rich family is hardly the most compelling subject matter. Loaded with good actors, it's not impossible to care about how the Beatys handle the end of the world, but it takes a fair amount of effort. Daly's Raymond is a pretty one-note jerk, while the rest of the characters are so passive that it's hard to muster much sympathy. 

Imagine being invited to a not-too-close friend's house for dinner. The salad course is perfectly acceptable, but by the time the main course rolls around, half of the table is screaming at each other, while the quiet half are nervously shifting their food with their forks before eventually fleeing to the privacy of their own rooms. And you're just there, watching it all, thinking, "so I guess this is my next 90 minutes?"

That's After Darkness. Accept the invitation at your own discretion. 

High Points
I really do have to hand it to Silva and Barroso for being extremely clever in how they used just a few brief expository news reports in the film's opening to fully create an end of the world that we never question

Low Points
As I said, watching a wealthy white family argue about past sins is pretty far down my list of things to do during quarantine

Lessons Learned
When designing your emergency food stash, always consider all possible points of entry

Checkhov's law of poisoned berries will never fail, even if the lack of sunshine may have disrupted said poisoned berries growth cycle

Before committing to spending the rest of your life with your in-laws, it's probably best to have actually these said in-laws

Look, I appreciate After Darkness's rather Beckettian approach to the apocalypse, but even if you consider its genre to be family drama, it's just not that dynamic. Apocalypse aficionados who know what they're getting into will still find some interesting takes on the genre, so there's always that. Find it on Hulu if you have the lack of energy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment