15-year-old Robert (Ezra Miller) is having a hard time adjusting to his new life at Brighton, an exclusive prep school located in New England. It's the start of his first semester there, and he already finds himself being teased by bullies about still being a virgin and for not trying out for any sports teams. When he calls home to complain ("I think no one likes me here."), his mom isn't any help, and just tells her son to be patient because things will get better.
In the interim, the socially-awkward freshman retreats to the alternate reality offered by the internet, where he divides his time between watching kinky pornography and violent videos of real-life beatdowns. Socially, the nerdy teen has to settle for ogling the cleavage of his teacher (Rosemary DeWitt), despite the fact that some of his more macho classmates brag about their sexual conquests.
Eventually, Robert finds an afterschool activity that captures his imagination when he joins the Audi-Visual Club. There, he not only gets a video camera, but is assigned to make a movie with Amy (Addison Timlin), a flirtatious, precocious coed who seems to be attracted to him. Soon, raging hormones gets the better of them as petting in the woods escalates to penetration.
But before love has a chance to blossom, a tragedy transpires one day while Robert's roaming around looking for something to shoot with his camera. By chance, he comes upon twins Anne and Mary Talbert in a hallway as both are flailing on the ground and gagging after what turns out to be a drug overdose.
Unfortunately, rather than calling for help, Robert opts to stand there and film their slow demise. This inappropriate response, however, is not necessarily much of a surprise, given the YouTube Generation's voyeuristic tendencies. Needless to say, the twins' deaths devastate the student body as a pall is cast over the entire campus.
During the tearful memorial, there is a moment of silence, after which one unanswered question remains, namely, why didn't Robert react responsibly? Is he merely an emotional-cripple or was there something more sinister afoot?
This is theme explored in "Afterschool," a very timely flick, given the recent goings-on in Chicago, where the murder of an honor student by a mob was similarly captured on tape by a classmate who failed to intervene. The movie marks the auspicious writing and directorial debut of Antonio Campos, a gifted wunderkind who effortlessly ratchets up the tension like a latter-day Hitchcock. Along the way, he keeps his cinematic finger on the pulse via an assortment of trademarks of 21st Century teen staples ranging from Skype teleconferencing to text messaging to "friends with benefits" making booty calls.
Whatever happened to the analog days when kids found contentment by cramming phone booths, sitting on flagpoles or simply going steady?
Excellent (4 stars)
Unrated R for nudity, sexuality and profanity.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: IFC Films
To see a trailer for "Afterschool," visit: