Fin (Evan Bendall) has just turned sixteen. He's in his last year of secondary school, and he's a bit of a tearaway. He and his best pal Joel (Rory Coltart) like nothing better than disrupting classes, challenging teachers and vandalising their cars on the way to school.
For Fin at least, there is a backdrop to help explain his attitude: his mother died, his violent father now works away in Tenerife and the lad is left with only his older brother Jake (Tom Cox) to care for him. Jake's a bit of a prick though: not only to Fin, but also to his own live-in girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalova). Mind, she actually seems to have the hots for young Fin...
Anyway, back to the school thing. Fin and Joel are particularly brutal towards passionate English literature teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands). So when they're smacked over the back of their heads with a hammer and abducted one night while idly chatting about whether Fin should make a move on Mia, you probably don't need three attempts at guessing who the culprit is?
That's right; Gale has finally cracked after enduring twenty years of hostile, disinterested kids ignoring his idealistic attempts at opening their minds and teaching them something worthwhile.
Having knocked both lads out cold, the next time Fin wakes, he and Joel are tied to chairs in Gale's workshop, their wrists strapped to a desk in front of them. Joel is still unconscious; Gale begins his enforced lesson on Fin alone as a result.
Yes, tonight Fin WILL pay attention and he WILL learn the stuff Gale is teaching him. If he doesn't, Gale will hammer nails through his hands! A pretty good incentive, of course ... or "motivation", which is one of the words (along with the likes of "allegory" and "idealism") that Gale strives to drum into Fin's mind before the night is over.
Fin is understandably petrified. He frantically tries to keep up with Gale's manic teaching pace, and avoid getting assaulted as punishment for non-compliance. Meanwhile, Joel is still out cold.
As for Jake and Mia? Well, Jake's a carefree shit. But Mia is concerned when Fin doesn't return home that night, and instigates a search of her own...
I'll be honest; I thought I was going to hate this. The first twenty minutes or so didn't instil me with much hope: annoying folky songs on the soundtrack, trendy choppy camerawork and editing, a young cast who didn't really convince as miscreants ... It all seemed a little shit, and not remotely horror.
But then Joel and Fin are abducted, and the film changes direction completely. It's at this juncture that the editing and performances appear to rise by several bars too.
Writer-director Ruth Platt serves up a screenplay which, once the main scenario is established, revels in its clever use of wordplay and fine balance between malevolent humour and, at times, surprisingly unsparing violence. It may be true that the thin premise struggles at points to justify the feature-length running time but, by and large, this remains fun once Gale has the boys at his mercy.
Hands is convincingly manic as the teacher, despite bearing an unfortunate likeness to Harry Hill at times. This really becomes Bendall's show at this stage though. He conveys terror and hopelessness well, while mustering a sense of persuasive resolve when required which keeps the audience on his side. He may begin the film as a typical example of what reactionary Daily Mail articles warn us against, but we learn progressively that there is more to Fin - he's got a heart and soul, as well as, as Gale discovers, a brain.
My main issue with this film, other than the slow start and basic concept which is spread rather thinly, is the photography. Actually, the photography is very slick and polished for the most part. It's also well-lit, and the editing is adroit. But it's the over-zealous use of shifting the focus from objects in the foreground to those that are in the background. This happens countless times during the film, so much so that I started to think it was clearly the latest trick these filmmakers had discovered. I began giggling whenever I noticed it, while getting really fucking annoyed by its presence at the same time. Is it saying anything? No, its sole purpose for being there is simply because it can be done.
ICON Entertainment bring THE LESSON to UK DVD fully uncut. It represents one of their FrightFest Presents range.
The film looks great in a sharp, clean and detailed 16x9 presentation which retains the original 1.85:1 ratio. With deep blacks and strong colours to boot, there's little to quibble about here.
English 2.0 audio is good too, as are the optional English Hard-of-Hearing subtitles: these appear to be typo-free and easily readable throughout.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. A static scene selection option affords access to the movie via 12 chapters.
Bonus features are restricted to a 2-minute introduction from Alan Jones, and a couple of minutes worth of outtakes.
The introduction sees Jones describe the film as an "intellectual slasher" and encourage the search for more genre-based female directors. As for the outtakes, it's the usual montage of actors getting the giggles during takes.
We also get trailers for THE UNFOLDING, LANDMINES GO CLICK, CURTAIN and LAST GIRL STANDING.
THE LESSON didn't grab me to begin with - it felt like one of those naive, right-wing scaremongering films about today's violent youth. It takes a turn, begins to grip while ramping up the sick humour and even provides a tender love story at its heart. It's good - but that overactive cameraman almost undermines the entire thing.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by ICON Entertainment|
|see main review|