The biggest fear anyone can have is fear of the unknown and the uncomfortable feeling that something isn’t right. The Cult strand of the London Film Festival explores horror and thrills in all forms but School’s Out is set apart as its sometimes chilling presence of uncertainty never fully tips over into the straight forward horror genre.
When a teacher suddenly and unexpectedly jumps from his classroom window, the school is shocked, apart from 6 of his students who barely bat an eyelid. Substitute teacher Pierre is brought in to take over the class of highly intelligent students. He notices the 6 students, how they conduct themselves, their strange habits and the tendency to cause problems with blank faced arrogance and an eerie presence. Pierre, after observing them, fears they are planning something at the end of term graduation and tries his best to uncover their secrets, but they are always one set ahead of him.
Children are used frequently in horror films either as the victim or the unsettling entity that causes pain and destruction. The reveal that it was the child or teenager in the story all along who was the antagonist is always a shocker even when its suspected from the start. If the child or teenager is incredibly intelligent, they are seen as even more of threat. School’s Out plays on the group of teenagers who are intelligent, know they are and perceive that this automatically makes them better than everyone else. They spout propaganda like jargon about the environment and how everyone is ruining it. They don’t use mobile phones because they are bad for the environment and make a point that because they see what’s happening in the world, they are simply better than everyone else. Their blank faces and lack of emotion makes the group unapproachable, purposely isolating themselves, making them seem more menacing, especially to outsiders of the school.
Pierre is an outsider, happy to take a job at an elite academy. But by being an outsider, he sees things that go on that would not seem right outside the school. He is also seen as a threat to the 6 strange students who, right from the start, make him feel useless, or at least try to. We see Pierre’s experiences and are given his point of view of the students. We are solving or trying to make sense of everything along with Pierre.
The story never travels into stereotypical horror genre territory until near the end where all the characters seem helpless, accepting what will happen next. But the lead up to the strange, somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, is full of twists and unsettling turns. There is also the possibility to read too much into characters actions and words but the overall feeling of, ‘something isn’t right’ is felt until the end and that might worth the wait.
Dir: Sébastien Marnier
Prd: Caroline Bonmarchand
Scr: Sébastien Marnier, Elise Griffon
DoP: Romain Carcanade
Running time: 104 minutes