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Review: 'After Darkness' sheds light on the human condition

Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 3:47 PM Central

by John Couture

This week, there's a new movie starring some from Stranger Things. Natalia Dyer, who plays Nancy Wheeler in the incredibly popular Netflix show Stranger Things, transitions over the film side of the industry for this Sci-Fi slow-burner.

Did I mention Stranger Things?

From the marketing materials to the trailer, it's pretty clear that they want to make it known that Natalia Dyer is in Stranger Things. And I get it, the show is immensely popular and the highly anticipated third season is just around the corner this Summer, why wouldn't you want to highlight this fact? But sometimes, a little promotion goes a long way.

Besides, I'm not entirely convinced that the show's primary fanbase would get much enjoyment out of After Darkness. It's more of a Sci-Fi drama while Stranger Things seems to play in the fantasy adventure realm. Also, nostalgia plays a big factor in the success of Stranger Things while After Darkness is set in the near future.

That's not to say that After Darkness isn't a good film - it is and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm just suggesting that maybe using Stranger Things as a hook is a bit disingenuous here. Of course, if you're a fan of Natalia Dyer, there is a lot to like here as we get to see her perform with a bit more range than we've gotten in her Stranger Things snippets.

Stranger Things. There, I think I hit the quota.

After Darkness follows the aftermath of a solar disaster which is causing the sun to die out. With the skies getting dark and heat becoming scarce, one family retreats to their lavish country home with dwindling hopes of survival.

The initial setup of a collapsing sun is a good Sci-Fi hook and had this been a big-budget studio film, the action would have centered on a desperate plot to save humanity. Instead, the action takes place off-screen while After Darkness gives us a singular look of a family with a dark secret that they have been avoiding for years. With their imminent demise upon them, they have no choice but to confront their past as the fabric of their existence slips away.

The film ponders the depths of the human condition and the human psyche when it is faced with the inevitability of death. Death comes for us all in the end, but the unknown nature our own demise allows us the comfort to live in ignorance of our actions. But, when you introduce a ticking clock, suddenly the stakes feel much bigger.

Whether through denial or obfuscation, we manipulate our reality to serve our needs. In After Darkness, every family member takes a decidedly different path and it's a very interesting study into human behavior. From the kids' perspectives, their faith in their parents' ability to protect them is shaken to the core. While the parents no longer have control over their children's actions. While this is a natural progression in life, it's accelerated here due to the impending doom and the film plays with the psychological fragility of this upheaval in a way that exposes just how reliant we are as a species on the familial order.

I joked at the top about Natalia Dyer, but she is wonderful here. She plays a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, but she knows that she will never experience it. Her rebellious nature mirrors that of her sister and serves to bring long-dormant issues to the forefront.

The parents played by Kyra Sedgwick and Tim Daly turn in wonderful performances that their body of work suggests that they would. In particular, Kyra's quick descent into madness and Tim's slow spiral to insanity are highlights of the film.

Another performance worth noting is the one turned in by Valorie Curry. She's probably best known as Emma from The Following, opposite Kyra's husband Kevin Bacon. In this film, she provides the audience an outsider's look into this very disturbed family. She carries her own against more accomplished actors and her future does indeed look bright. No pun intended.

At the end of the day, After Darkness is a singular story set against the backdrop of a much larger tragedy. It's a refreshing look at the minutiae that Hollywood blockbusters tend to gloss over in favor of more explosions. The reality is that an impending catastrophe would be a series of situations like this where every family is forced to fend for their very survival against long odds.

After Darkness faces similar long odds, but it pulls it off. The film will make you think about our place in the grand scheme of things. Any film that makes you think and lingers with you long after the credits have rolled is a winner in my book.

After Darkness is now available on DVD.