In one of his lectures, the academic Rick Roderick argued that abstract philosophical reasoning often struggles against the ambiguous, problematic situations of real life. John Huddles’s The Philosophers (known in the US as After the Dark) attempts to contemplate and test a similar inquiry: what good is philosophy at helping us survive an extinction event? Yet the writer-director’s exploration into this question remains utterly shallow in this pretentious, flimsy thriller.
In Jakarta, two international philosophy students (Rhys Wakefield and Sophie Lowe) get ready to graduate with their class of overachievers. However, their teacher, Mr Zimit (James D’Arcy) – a brilliant if self-absorbed logician – wants to put the cohort through one last test: a thought experiment into how humanity might survive after an apocalypse. Through a series of ever-mounting dilemmas, the group must apply their learning to work out a solution.
From the outset, Huddles has viewers head scratching about the film – and not in a good way. A clumsy opening and pointless location (other than gap-year vibes and exoticised mysticism, why was this story set in Indonesia?) send early warning signs of a weak, unfocused project. As the director intercuts with some cinematographic flair between the classroom and imagined chaos, the early scenes of Zimit’s provocative exercise do offer up a few problems to consider. However, with no real stakes nor intriguing motivations or genuine insight, the story is rendered banal at best and incoherent at worst.
Advertised not only as “smart” but “sexy”, the writer-director has his young, attractive cast spout lines conceived out of a Philosophy 101 textbook, mixed with canonical literary references and some real clangers: “You’re a mean bean, Mr. Zimit,” poor Bonnie Wright has to remark despondently at D’Arcy’s shifty tutor. Led by Lowe’s terrible performance (an overly breathy delivery and stilted acting that is somehow meant to suggest nymphic genius) and Wakefield’s mere matinee idol good looks, the rest of the (needlessly large) ensemble never rises above the purely instrumental characters. The camera’s slightly voyeuristic gaze doesn’t help either, mildly tainting the thriller with a perceivable creepiness.
After supposedly grappling with a number of ethical and existential conundrums, this conceited film collapses in on itself, profound interrogations of human nature reduced to a barely veiled, petty lover’s triangle. By the conclusion, Huddles leaves only one question on the mind about The Philosophers: what was he thinking?
The Philosophers is released digitally on demand on 24th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Philosophers here: