Like the squawking teachers in a Peanuts holiday special, the boarding school instructors in Antonio Campos’s debut, Afterschool, are slyly kept out of the frame (or else made blurry to us) for most of the picture’s first half. Then, when Campos finally brings these adults into focus—after two popular seniors fatally overdose in a campus hallway—it is not to humanize them but to show us the hypocrisy imprinted on their faces.
Afterschool, which screens Monday at the New York Film Festival, is set in a dreary Connecticut institution, the entire snot-nosed student body of which seems to come from uptown Manhattan. In keeping with the requirements of the boarding school genre, Campos portrays life in a navy blazer as less than copacetic. But beyond the resourceful cinematographer of Jody Lee Lipes, and the believably inert performances of an all-amateur cast, Campos’s understanding of the relationship between mass media and adolescent misbehavior is, well, juvenile. The twenty-five-year-old director (who graduated from the Upper West Side’s Dwight School before attending NYU) would have us believe that his gallery of spoiled brats can stand in for all of American youth. At least Gossip Girl doesn’t take itself so seriously.—Benjamin Strong