'You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.' ~ Paul Sweeney

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Movie Review: "After the Dark"

Starring Bonnie Wright and Freddie Stroma
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

While the film has been marketed as an apocalyptic survival story, the apocalypse in question is really more of a manifestation of a subplot that will move to the forefront of the film towards the ending scenes. I also scanned more than ten reviews of the film to see if my reaction was on target with other viewers, but stunningly, I found myself in the minority. Is it strange that I actually enjoyed the movie? I don’t think so.

One could argue that because I’m a fan of the Harry Potter universe and all that inhabit it, I’m likely to support any project that happens to have employed one of the Potter stars. That’s simply not true – I hated The Haunted Airman with Robert Pattinson and couldn’t get behind that film at all no matter how much I tried.

The fact is that After the Dark is a smart film. The premise is interesting, posing questions of logic and emotion throughout three apocalyptic scenarios which are posited by the teacher of a philosophy class for seniors graduating from an international school in Jakarta. As you and I have never actually been through an apocalypse, we can’t say for sure how we would react, but writer/director John Huddles allows the viewer, along with the characters, to ponder how we might react given specific sets of factors to consider.

Let’s get past the shocking deaths of the poet Toby in two of the three scenarios. This is window dressing, something to distract you from the real plot twist that comes at the end. Graphic – yes. Attention getting – absolutely. They’ve played this portion in the trailers to pull you in. This story doesn’t belong to Toby. It belongs to someone else entirely.

The film starts with the idea that humans are flawed in both their logical and emotional decision-making abilities in life and death situations. What I found more poignant about this film beyond the marketed apocalyptic theme is the subtle undercurrent of the true reason for the given scenarios in the first place. I won’t ruin the movie for you by actually giving a summary that includes the twist – you need to see this film for yourself. What I will say is that Sophie Lowe as Petra and James D’Arcy as Eric give amazing performances in this film, allowing the finer nuances of their characters to fall into place just as they should and not a moment before. I wish there had been more of Bonnie Wright, but her character Georgina took the teacher to task a few times and allowed the Potter fan in me to see more of what this young actress is capable of. Lastly, I have to say, I never could get behind Cormac McLaggen as a character in either of the Potter books and films, and Freddie Stroma’s performance as Cormac made me dislike the character as much as I ever did. His role in After the Dark is completely the opposite of Cormac and shows a side of this actor I wasn’t aware of. Freddie is utterly charming in his role as Jack and provided most of the comic relief the film needed due to the heavier nature of the storyline.

In truth, the film is a bit of a mind-fuck, but one that can be thoroughly enjoyable if you allow yourself to go where the story goes rather than trying to stuff it into a specific categorical box. After the Dark is not what you’re expecting, but it is a film that will make you question everything.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Review: "Separate We Come, Separate We Go"

Written and Directed by Bonnie Wright
Starring David Thewlis
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

In this ten minute short film, written and directed by Bonnie Wright, a young girl named Thea discovers the power of her imagination with the help of a stranger she meets along the beach in her coastal town.

In the opening of the film, 10-year-old Thea comforts her depressed mother, and when she is sure her mother is on her way out of this episode of depression, takes a walk outside. She briefly explores an old boat that has been left aground, before happening upon a man looking at rocks near an abandoned set of train tracks.

The stranger invites her to have some tea at his house, which is close by. As she waits for the tea, Thea notices how messy the house is, and hiding under the mess on the coffee table is a picture of the man, his wife, and his son. While he doesn’t reveal all, the stranger indicates that he lost them both, and then asks Thea if she has brothers or sisters. When she says it is only herself and her mother, the man stands and invites her to see something. He gives her a coat to keep her warm, and the pair exit the home and head back towards the beach.

The man asks her if she could go anywhere, be anywhere, where would she be? In a very matter-of-fact answer, Thea explains that she is only here, in Dungeness, and can’t be anywhere else. The man laughs, and tries again, stirring her imagination until she says she would love to go to Paris. As seagulls fly overhead, he instructs her to tell the birds to go to Paris since they are flying the right direction. They both run after the flying birds, shouting instructions. It is only then that we finally see the 10-year-old Thea, and not the wise-beyond-her-years Thea, who has been caring for her depressed mother. Finally, the two introduce themselves, both Thea and the stranger named Norman smiling at one another before parting ways.

The short film immediately grabs at the heart strings as we see Thea dealing with more than any child should have to deal with, and then gives the viewer a moment of joy when the little girl emerges, yelling at the birds to go to Paris. Wonderfully, over the final scene of the film, Thea reads for the viewer a letter she has written to Norman, leaving us hopeful that the girl will continue to embrace and retain that child-like wonder and imagination that Norman introduced her to on the beach of Dungeness.