Afterschool Movie Review
Rob (Miller) is a sullen sophomore at a New England boarding school, where he's dismissed as a poor kid by his rich classmates. His roommate Dave (White), who deals drugs in his spare time, won't even introduce Rob to the cool kids. When Rob joins the video class, he's teamed with the sparky Amy (Timlin) to make a film about the school. But they inadvertently record the nasty overdose of the school's most popular girls. As everyone's world comes undone, Rob maintains his aloof, awkward perspective, which unnerves the principal (Stuhlbarg).
Campos' terrific mix of imagery--pixelated YouTube clips, digital home video, crisp widescreen 35mm film--is extremely effective, establishing a strong point of view: we see everything through Rob's eyes. Even though he's utterly inexpressive, refusing to open up about anything to anyone (except in a brief phone call to his mother), we still feel like we get into his head. This is mainly due to the often off-centred camera work and a sharp editing style, which combines with Miller's remarkably contained, consistent performance.
All of the kids are eerily realistic teens (the adults are less convincing); we vividly feel their adolescent listlessness, interpersonal rivalry and tentative liaisons. And Campos shows things as they are, with an accurate and sometimes provocative depiction of high school that shatters most films' defanged fantasies. Conversations about subverting the rules and losing one's virginity have the ring of authenticity, as do some of the more intense dramatic confrontations.
Where Campos stumbles is in his tendency to moralise. There's an early suggestion that Rob's enjoyment of hard-edged porn might lead him into violence, and this threat of tragedy looms over everything that follows. Then after the overdose the school cracks down with its own Patriot Act, vowing to "never forget ... and be vigilant" so this doesn't happen again. These touches are rather heavy-handed, but they never overwhelm the central drama. Let's hope Campos realises that less pushing can actually be more effective.