Every spring, a high school drama club would go with their much loved teacher to a large cabin in the hills for a few nights of casual fun together.

That last happened in 1996. Now, in the present, all members of the club have arranged a little reunion at the same retreat, after 20 years of no contact with each other. At the start of the film, everyone arrives, lots of hugs and 'oh my god been too long' remarks shared. Some have brought their partners too, all eager and made to feel welcome in no time at all. The place currently houses former club member Aaron (Dane Bowman), their teacher (its original owner) having passed away. A quick Facebook message sent out to everyone just a few days prior was enough convincing to bring this get-together idea to life.

Characters include the vivacious Elle (Liza de Weerd) and husband Keith (Mike Kopera), laid-back Cory (Jon Luke Thomas) and his girlfriend Kat (Chelsea Brandt), who is more focused on trying to get internet on her phone, religious Hannah (Melanie L. Lewis), douchebag Luke (Chris Ciccarelli) etc. etc.

Tensions from the past soon return, with reserved Nathan (Barry Finnegan) being tackled to the ground by Luke, his old bully. Following a go-kart race pitting them against one another, a taste of the prick's own medicine is finally received via a punch in the nose, for 'years of ego-diminishing abuse' in Nathan's words.

That night, a chilled debate about social media use turns heated when everyone is asked to share a secret, something that they haven't put on Facebook for the world to know. One guy can't get his girl pregnant, another is facing a prison sentence, someone has apparently been a virgin twice, and a fourth hasn't been in a relationship since high school... This talk concludes with Kat storming off and Elle reconciling with an offended Hannah after being shouted at.

Okay, serious discussions have come to a finish; now it's time for fun and games fuelled by drugs 'n alcohol. A few hours pass by, then people start to wander off. Not to become the victims of heinous murder, though. The next morning, a lot of shit has happened. People have made huge mistakes, big discoveries are had about certain characters, and relationships are starting to crumble...

Let's get this out of the way first of all; THE DRAMA CLUB is not a horror film. In fact, once you've been watching for a good half hour you may be fooled into believing this to be a sweet, feel-good affair about people coming together and just having a laugh. Then, at about 50 minutes in, things turn very, very downbeat.

This type of film always interests me: the 'people with differing viewpoints come together and talk and things don't go well' package. It automatically engages as you hear their opinions, choose to agree or disagree with them yourself, and just enjoy the resulting carcrash onscreen as people jump up to argue back. This element is just one piece of director Joe McClean's work, however. The early discussion about social media is undoubtedly thought provoking, but I'm ultimately questioned about its purpose here? Later alcohol-fuelled talks about abortion, gun rights, racism etc. are utterly pointless, but help you to somewhat absorb the mindset of each of these characters, and to decide who you like and who you don't give a rat's arse about. Performances are generally good apart from a stale effort from Brandt.

Something nice has been crafted here, directed confidently and with stunning visuals (the hilltop location is great). Repeated onscreen visions of the cast as teenagers was a cool touch, and kept me focused.

The big problem I have with McClean's film is the pacing. It's dreadfully slow, the first 2/3s giving, as I said before, the impression of a smooth, light-hearted viewing experience. In a way, this adds effect to the eventual dark turn of things, but still, it's completely uneven. After that point, I can't really complain about anything. The final act is anxious and emotional, the final scene bittersweet. Michael Teoli's melancholy music works well.

THE DRAMA CLUB was reviewed via an online screener, available VOD now.

Joe McClean's film is okay to start with, and excellent by the time it's ended. Whether the strong conclusion redeems the appalling speed of events (and if it's worth the watch just for that) is for you to decide.


Review by Elliott Moran

Directed by Joe McClean