Review: ‘After the Dark’ is a provocative survival story

A scene from "After The Dark"

After an atomic apocalypse, only 10 people out of a group of 21 can live in a specially outfitted bunker for a year, at which point they will restart civilization as we know it. Which 10 would you pick — and why?

This is the set-up of “After the Dark,” an unusually creative and ambitious film of ideas that offers so much more than its forgettable title and sensationalized publicity may imply.

Impressively written and directed by John Huddles, this existential sci-fi thriller follows a so-called thought experiment in which one Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy), a haughty philosophy teacher at an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia, concocts one last make-or-break test for his itchy senior students. In it, he assigns would-be professions and characteristics to each teen, who must then work as a group to play out a series of what-if scenarios based on said “nuclear holocaust.”

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The well-shot and designed film toggles between heady, actual classroom debate and envisaged scenes of Zimit and his students navigating the hypothetical catastrophe. The imaginary sequences, set in and around the proposed bunker, intriguingly examine several iterations of survival in which logic and preconception are often trumped by emotion and fairness.

While the story’s conceit brims with metaphor and symbolism, it rarely comes off as didactic or heavy-handed. Instead, it’s smart and provocative. The movie’s late-breaking twist also feels about right.

D’Arcy is effective as the enigmatic Zimit, and an attractive array of young actors including Sophie Lowe, Rhys Wakefield, Freddie Stroma, Bonnie Wright and Daryl Sabara bring apt heart and conviction to their roles as budding academics.

“After the Dark.” MPAA rating: R. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood. Also on VOD.

Updated: An earlier version of this post said the film had no MPAA rating.