The Lesson (2015) Review

lesson-1THE LESSON (2015)

Starring Robert Hands, Evan Bendall and Michaela Prchalova

Written & Directed by Ruth Platt

UK VOD Release 29th Feb from FrightFest Presents

“Two schoolboy delinquents learn a lesson they will never forget when a teacher at the end of his tether decides to abduct them”. Via IMDb.

I remember in Secondary School I took Art as a GCSE because, like many, I thought it would be an easy pass, a lesson where I could mess about and relax between Maths and Science. Our regular teacher took ill, and a lovely young lady was put in as substitute. She was nice, and nervous, and fairly inexperienced, and that was like red to a bull to the majority of my classmates. She was ridiculed, disrespected, and after a couple of weeks, she burst into tears in front of us. It was pointless, nasty bullying, but probably a fairly mild case compared to others.

But what if that substitute teacher snapped? What if she went home that night, and came up with a plan to really teach us all a lesson, by any means necessary?

Lesson-4That’s the basic logline of The Lesson, but that’s only on the surface. Beneath it as about so much more.

Fin (Bendall) is your average youth of today. Fairly popular among his peers for his willingness to be a little shit and hide his actual intellect (because that’s my cool), he however comes from a broken family that has rendered him ignored and with no role model. Through flashbacks we learn that he was once close to his mother, but she has passed. His father left, and his older brother Jake (Tom Cox) is an asshole and resents Fin. The only positives in his life are his bad influence best friend Joel (Rory Coltart) and Jake’s beautiful, good hearted girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalova).

As Fin is going through his daily trials and tribulations, he, and his friends, are oblivious to the suffering of their teacher Mr. Gale (Robert Hands). A once idealistic teacher, Gale has lost control of his pupils, and is receiving daily abuse and intimidation. Until he’s had enough…

Lesson-3I don’t think I’ve ever watched a horror film and actually felt more intelligent and educated after it before. But such is the power and eloquence and intelligence of Ruth Platt’s script. Once the film shifts into act two and Gale’s plan kicks into gear, we are treated to the same lessons involving weighty themes such as imperialism, putting us in Fin’s confused, transfixed headspace. The Lesson deals with growth through suffering, evolution through pain, and it does so in an exceptional way. The slow build nature of the story allows plenty of breathing space to develop each of the leads, with effortless characterisation, authentic dialogue, and with a realistic edge that really sucks you in.

Realism is also the keyword for Platt’s direction. The camera trails the characters like a fly on the wall, the un-fussy framing and editing reminding us of Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, lingering for as long as necessary on the faces of the actors.

Lesson-2Performances are top notch for the most part, Gale somehow grabbing our sympathy even as he commits atrocious acts. He isn’t a natural killer, he has been pushed to the edge. His motives are actually genuinely positive, but his execution is deranged. Bendall is great as a wounded animal who is smart enough to blend in with his peers but not smart enough to know that he doesn’t need to.

Any flaws? Only in the third act, when the script, acting and direction becomes slightly less grounded in an effort to build to the climax. Also, a subplot involving Mia’s mother goes nowhere and feels like filler.

But those are minor nitpick in an otherwise edgy, thought provoking British thriller. It seems like we have finally gotten past the phase of demonising our youth on film. While both entertaining and powerful films in their own right, F and Eden Lake really exploited the Right-Wing view of hoodies in a pretty unhelpful way in the long run, painting youths as pure evil straight from hell. But with The Lesson, and the recent Cruel Summer, the hoody generation is painted in a more authentic, more disturbing shade of grey. “You can’t be foreign if you’re English” states Fin early on in an off the cuff comment, and it’s a much more telling piece of dialogue than it seems. If society refuses to properly educate and provide inspiration for the young, whether it be at home, school or through the media, then can we be surprised at their behaviour? And even if the young are wise enough deep down to know their peers are wrong, how safe is it for them to say so?

Lesson-5Like the film itself, the characters in The Lesson, from Fin, to Jake, to Mr Gale, all have much more going on than what they outwardly show to each other. A great lesson in sustained tension and character driven horror, Ruth Platt has made a stark future cult classic and I can’t wait to see what’s next from her. Perfect for those who like to use their brains as well a see them splattered all over the floor.

9/10

The Lesson (2015) Review

lesson1The Lesson (UK, 2015)

Dir: Ruth Platt

Starring: Robert Hands, Evan Bendall, Michaela Prcjalová

UK Release TBC

Plot: Fin (Bendall) is in his last year of school. He’d rather be out causing mischief with his friends, getting away from the house he shares with his brother and his girlfriend, Mia (Prcjalová). School is the last thing he could care about, much to the disappointment of his English teacher, Mr Gale (Hands). Gale despairs as his classroom runs riot and his pupils being either abusive towards him or apathetic. A night out raising hell with his friend Jake ends unexpectedly for Fin as he is knocked out and wakes up tied to a desk. Mr Gale has come to the end of his tether and has decided to make Fin learn something, even if it’s pain at the wrong end of a nail gun.

The Lesson was introduced at Fright Fest as being the smartest film in this year’s line up. I can’t deny that proclamation because The Lesson is definitely a thinker. It focuses on education in equal message to it’s focus on torture. Robert Hands portrayal of Mr Gale shows a man desperate to open the mind of the youth who he is so close to writing off entirely. He is a broken idealist. The nature of The Lesson is a discussion about the nature of good and evil, about the nature of mankind. It poses a lot of tough questions.

lesson2The film is very interesting and I feel like I will need to give it a few more viewings to get the most from it. However it’s the kind of film that I feel might be demonising today’s youth a bit too much. I had my fair share of disruptive kids in my classes when I was at school but I don’t think any of them could psychologically break someone. Kids are easy to write off as monsters, but perhaps I haven’t taken into account what 20 years of disappointment and abuse does to a person in the form of Mr Gale.

Fin is essentially a chav in this movie and Mr Gale comes off very pious, his education making him superior. He wants to raise Fin closer to his level because he believes he is bestowing a gift, but at the same time he is stating that Fin is beneath him. It’s an odd dynamic because with torture films you have to take a side. Fin is the sympathetic one with his messed up home life. Mr Gale is the one who has a goal to achieve, the education of youth even if it goes against their will.

lesson3The Lesson gives us a new spin on the torture sub-genre with a welcomed dose of intellectualism that is usually absent in films that focus on meaningless pain. The only major disappointment I had was that the film wraps up all too quickly and messily, ending sub-plots almost illogically. It seemed very rushed and I would have easily watched an extra half hour of The Lesson if it would have ended a little more neatly.

7/10