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?
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…
I 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.
Performances 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?
Like 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.