Robert (Ezra Miller) is a pupil at a mixed gender boarding school, an expensive establishment where the children of the well off are left by their parents to get an education, though anything else they may pick up in terms of life experiences are very much up to the youngsters. Robert prefers to spend his free time when not in class looking up videos on the internet, and the more pornographic the better, though he's not aversed to a dose of violence either: combine them in porn that's humiliating for the woman involved and you have his ideal entertainment. Either it is this preference that has alienated him or it is the community he is now a part of, but whichever it's doing damage to his mind...
The team who made Afterschool, some of them at least, also had an indie hit with Martha Marcy May Marlene, and that was in very much the same style, with the distancing effects, not quite centred camerawork, and natural-sounding audio, though the big difference was that while many found the hit significantly engrossing, not to say disturbing, the effect most often complained about here was that no matter the validity of writer and director Antonio Campos' arguments, that style didn't suit his story and he had inadvertantly created one of the most boring movies of the era. That was not quite fair, yet you could well understand why a large section of the audience were so turned off by it and what amounted to nearly two hours of finger wagging.
If there was a comparison in theme, it was the all-star anti-internet effort Men, Women and Children which was similarly ridiculed, though that was far more conventional in its approach and "awful warning" sermonising, whereas here the style was as much the point as the message making, an experimental one which tended to alienate the viewer as much as Robert was alienated by watching life pass by through brief items of sensationalism captured for online clips. You can pretty much have the measure of Afterschool from the first five minutes, even the title was an arch reference to educational programmes designed to warn kids about the variety of dangers lurking in the modern world designed to lead them astray. Beginning with a montage of actual and staged clips, eventually Robert masturbates to that porn.
So if there was nothing more to be said, not by this film at any rate, once that introduction was set up, then where did that leave the rest of the movie? As an exercise in sustaining a mood of antisocial isolation it was trying, then again that may have been the point as we watch the narrative burble along, or do our best to watch given the shots cutting off the tops of heads and wandering off for long takes as if the film was losing interest in itself. The difference between the teachers and pupils was a gulf in no way breached by what happens half an hour in, where Robert and fellow pupil Amy (Addison Timlin), who are fumbling towards a relationship his personality does its best to mutedly scupper, are making a video for the AV class and happen to capture a tragedy.
As if the protagonist wasn't bad enough as it is, this numbs him all the more to his existence, occasionally bubbling up into activity such as taking Amy's virginity in one of the most depressing sex scenes ever, or attacking his roommate Dave (Jeremy Allen White) in the corridor, the latter with crushing predictability becoming more footage for the ever-hungry internet to consume without a care for the genuine emotion involved, or even the context, as long as the viewers see someone pwned that's all that matters. Fair enough, living vicariously through the distorting screen of the net does need the chance to come up for air at regular intervals and interact with someone else, but even that doesn't help according to this as everyone else in Robert's peer group references the same porn and violence that he is addicted to in their conversations - the sex scene and tragedy show the gulf between that false reality and what actually happens in "real" reality. Suitably educated in where society is going wrong, we are then offered a bleak twist that you'll likely roll your eyes at; it's too obvious when it thinks it's clever.