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.


Sun Choke (2015) Review

sunchoke1Sun Choke (USA, 2015)

Dir: Ben Cresciman

Starring: Sarah Hagan, Barbara Crampton, Sara Malakul Lane

Plot: Janie (Hagan) is a troubled girl under the supervision of Irma (Crampton). Janie is being treated in her home and in recovery for a violent past. When her treatment seems to be going well, Janie is permitted to have time out in the rest of the world. However when Janie starts using this time to stalk Savannah (Lane), a girl she has become infatuated with, it becomes questionable how much good her treatment is or how much harm it’s causing.

Sun Choke is the kind of horrific mystery story that I find myself loving more and more as years go on. It’s the kind of film that makes you connect dots and gives out clues sparingly. The film begins with little introductions, starting with Irma testing Janie, a test that is aimed at children. The nature of their relationship is unclear, Irma may be Janie’s doctor, therapist, carer, her mother, or something else entirely. Whatever their relationship is, it appears to be a caring one. The nature of Janie’s problems or specifically the event that got her put in Irma’s care is left to the thoughts of the audience except for a couple of glances at traumatic events.

sunchoke2Gradually the film becomes darker as Janie is let loose on the world and first spots Savannah. Savannah is everything that Janie wants to be (or at least that’s how I interpreted it, Sun Choke is not the kind of film who’s characters actual say how they feel) and Janie becomes more and more invasive as she becomes more obsessed. Watching soon is not enough as Janie lets herself into Savannah’s home or gets close to her boyfriend.

Irma’s behaviour also becomes more troubling, punishing Janie in more and more severe ways. It’s the way the film starts to embody the theme of abuse, specifically growing up in an abusive environment and how it effects behaviour and perpetuates further abuse. Janie’s obsession with Savannah is an extension of this theme, it’s her attempt to escape her abuse through the life of someone else.

The cast of Sun Choke is amazing, focusing on the relationship between these three women. Hagan gives Janie an odd balance between childlike naivety and brutally vicious. Crampton’s Irma also has a similar duality, her caring side warring with her abusive side, making her abuse emotional as well as physical. Lane rounds it off as the innocent victim, the collateral damage in this cycle of abuse.

This is definitely a thinker of a film, I find myself comparing it to Under The Skin, another film I really enjoy but recognise that it’s not a film for everyone. It’s requires patience and thought, and it rewards you with a rich story and beautiful visuals.

sunchoke3During the Q&A with the director and Barbara Crampton, it was asked if this film potentially demonises mental illness. I don’t think that it does, Janie might be suffering from a mental illness but it’s the result of the abuse that she’s endured and the violence that results when that’s all you know.

Sun Choke was one of my favourites from this year’s Fright Fest. It’s an original story that’s dark and intimate and let’s you discover it rather than telling you it blatantly. It’s a film I can’t help but recommend highly.


Hellions (2015) Review

hellions1Hellions (USA, 2015)

Dir: Bruce McDonald

Cast: Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossif Sutherland

UK DVD Release date October 26th from StudioCanal

Plot: Dora (Rose) is a teenage girl whose Halloween night has her terrified due to the fact she has discovered that she’s pregnant. Afraid of the consequences she fails to tell her mother before she leaves with Dora’s little brother for their night of trick or treating, and nervously awaits the arrival of her boyfriend to tell him the bad news. Dora’s night spirals when a group of strange and violent kids start knocking at her door and chasing her through the house. Can Dora survive the night and tell her loved ones about her pregnancy?

Hellions is from director Bruce McDonald, know best by horror fans for 2008’s strange zombie movie, Pontypool. In Hellions, McDonald continues to avoid doing the obvious and instead offers the audience another odd and allegorical horror film.

The main theme of Hellions is Dora’s anxiety towards telling people about the pregnancy that she is ashamed of. The menacing children who are stalking her and killing those around her are the manifested fear that a child will end her life as she knows it. Her night progresses and various characters attempt to help her including her doctor who is ineffectual in her nightmare and by extension, she fears that they won’t help her with this pregnancy. Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) plays the town sheriff who also comes to help but also seems to represent society, at least in her small home town. He blames Dora for the chaos that’s happening.

hellions3Hellions is a very stylistic film, choosing to stray away from the traditional murky look over most other horrors and gives it a very bleached out look of almost pastel colours. It gives the film a very otherworldly appearance. The costume designs for the vicious trick-or-treater’s are eerie in their home-made costume look.

It’s a very well made movie even away from the visual style of the film, although that doesn’t mean that it is free of flaws. The story does have moments where it grinds along slowly, it doesn’t make it overly clear where the film is going so you don’t have that anticipation dragging you along. The film also chooses to make a couple blatant continuity errors that I assumed were just to highlight that this was supposed to be a dreamlike world, but my first thought was that it was just a silly mistake.?

Chloe Rose proves herself a strong actress who is the sole focus of this film, she’s sympathetic throughout her night of struggle. I can feel that she will be easy to relate with for any woman who has had to go through a pregnancy at a young age.

hellions2Hellions is a strange movie and in that, not likely to be for everyone. It’s a voyage of anxiety that feels like Alice in Wonderland mixed with Halloween. Definitely an interesting character story but not quite as compelling as I’d wished it was. However if it’s anything like Pontypool, it might be one that delivers more on repeat viewings.