Respecting your teachers is the moral of the story in Ruth Platt’s; The Lesson. This teen torture Brit Flick received it’s World Premiere at 2015’s Frightfest in London and is another title soon to be distributed by the label Frightfest Presents as part of their sinister summer selection.
Fin (Evan Bendall) is a teenage delinquent and a product of a broken home, living with his antagonistic older brother Jake (Tom Cox) and Jake’s Polish girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalova). Along with his obnoxious pal Joel (Rory Coltart), Fin terrorizes his English teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands) because teenage boys will be teenage boys. A very hard and brutal lesson soon awaits this defiant young lad when Mr Gale is about to teach him a few things he will never forget!
Described as both an “art house film” and “coming of age story”, The Lesson is a different kind of horror film in how it merges these elements together while also incorporating a layer of extreme cinema. The Lesson begins as a coming of age drama set in middle class Britain. Fin and Joel aren’t typical “thugs” but wayward boys who act out due to simply being products of their generation, consumed by a poor economy, broken families and over-consumption of technology.
Their characterization differs from the antagonists in Eden Lake (2008) for example who were brought up to be brutish just like the generation before them. The teenage boys in The Lesson come from a decent area and have opportunities at their feet however oppose education for the sake of underage drinking, smoking and procrastination. They are deliberately obnoxious and the lack of a parental role in Fin’s life is accounted for in his behavior as told in flashback sequences.
Platt carefully builds up the dynamics between the characters during the beginning and fleshes Fin and Mia out in particular with their backstories. In one sense this is refreshing for a horror film, however the pacing becomes problematic as the film feels too drawn out even before arriving at where it needs to be. The setup with Mr Gale and the torment he endures at the hands of his classroom is boiled down to a single cliched scene where the pupils refuse to listen to him, swear a lot and put chewing gum in his hair for devilment.
There is too much focus on Fin’s hankering over the unobtainable Mia for the most part. Platt creates tension between Fin, Mia and Jake with an unspoken sexual attraction at the forefront whereas Mr Gale’s plight should have taken center stage for when the main aspect of the story kicks in. Replacing the long lingering moments at the beginning with a few more intense classroom scenes to get an understanding of why Gale finally snaps would have been welcome as it feels like two completely separate narratives, one well-established and the other rushed. One throwaway line indicates that Gale has done something similar before but is never followed up on in it’s conclusion and merely there to plant the seed of what’s to come.
At times the acting is questionable but then picks up and offers up some decent performances. Robert Hands stands out as the psychopathic Mr Gale. In some ways he’s a comedy villain but there’s a sense of nervousness wondering what lengths he will go to next to get his point across. Threatening Fin with a nail gun, Gale forces him to find words in the dictionary and read their definitions aloud. These moments are suspenseful but soon become repetitive and lose the shock value. The Lesson’s problem is it’s too dialogue heavy, drawing it out more than it needs to be.
Understandably, Platt has taken a different approach to cater for an art-house crowd, but the long lingering shots and the hammering home of repetitive dialogue is slightly off-putting for those looking for the more general kind of horror film. It feels as if Platt didn’t quite know which direction to go in in order to wrap the film up then brought it contrivances that are guaranteed to make your eyes roll. The ending seems unnecessary and strange adding in a continuation that seems a bit out of left field.
The gore effects are exceptionally well done and realistic looking. The cutaway’s during the torture scenes are well timed and allow plenty for the imagination. In some instances the sound design is muffled but is then part of it’s indie film charm.
The Lesson is an interesting micro-budget offering that tries to be a bit of everything which works to some degree bringing in a relevant yet exaggerated social commentary on the state of authority in the British school and an evaluation of the troubled youth. The Lesson operates well as a dark comedy with some unintentionally funny bleak moments. It demonstrates a story arc and makes a strong effort to develop the protagonists.
Ultimately, as stated at the beginning it starts off as a coming of age story, is presented as an art house film and combines this with the revenge movie sub-genre. Of course, it’s not the most original film in terms of plot but at least offers a different style and take. This should definitely be used as a public information film in schools for ill-behaved pupils!