Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lesson (2015) Slamdance 2016

A bullied teacher with too much on his plate snaps and kidnaps two of his students in order to get revenge and teach them a lesson.

A surprising small scale gem of a horror film that is scary, intelligent and just damn amazing. Where the hell has this film been lurking and why the hell haven't I heard of it until now? No matter Slamdance has it and soon I suspect will the world, and we are so much better for it.

Director Ruth Platt has fashioned one hell of thrill ride that doesn't feel like any other horror film out there. Part social commentary, part torture porn, part theater piece the film has a great deal on it's mind and it manages to get it all out while making you wince and scream and feel. Its a brilliant twist on a well worn sub-genre that normally I avoid like the plague.

There is much to admire here.but the big deal here is the creation of mood and a head space. What Platt has done is assemble the film in such away that the audience is completely off it's feet, forceing them to dance and engage to get a grasp on what is going on, much like Fin who is tied to a table and forced to endure a lesson that may cost him his life. The opening sequences look like any number of socially relevant dramas coming out of the UK. There are black and white flash backs to Fin's childhood that fill in background. Right before the kidnapping the film feels like a coming of age film. The kidnapping is so low key and unexpected that you kind of have to process what we are seeing. It just happens kind of out of nowhere and is done. And then once the lesson starts the film becomes a kind of weird monologue as Mr Gale lectures and tortures and Fin drifts in and out of reality.

What amazes me is that for most of it's running time this doesn't feel like what we think of as a horror film. There is no build-up to shocks, there are no dark and scary places and all of the monsters are in plain view. I've seen the film, I've been disturbed by it but until the film moves  into the final 20 minutes this film steers away from most horror conventions. Yes the film has a bloody resolution, but at the same time the coda after the blood soaked climax is not what I even remotely expected. Platt isn't done messing with her audience's expectations until the end credits.

To be honest the film isn't perfect. There are some sequences that fall flat, a moment or two where the violence isn't handled perfectly. There are moments I admire more than I like, but at the same time the film is a kick is the chest at times as it all comes brilliantly together. It has a visceral power that gets under your skin and into your head and makes you wince- and, strangely for a horror film, think. Its a film that hung with me and which I mentioned to other writers giving them contact information for the film's producers because I was so blown away by the film I felt that I had to try and get the word out to even more people.

I suspect that the film is going to divide audiences. I know that there are a whole bunch of gore-hounds who are going to hate chunks of this film and others who are expecting typically constructed horror film who will be disappointed. However for anyone looking for a horror film that breaks the rules, that goes its own way and does so with a bravado that most other films are lacking, this film is going to be like finding a gem in the rough. This is going to be one of those films where we can note the emergence of a director who looks to be destined for great things (Note to Ruth Platt- Don't feel the need to give into studio pressure-keep following  your instincts because you were dead on here)

This is a real find. This is a genre bending blood bath that dips into the torture porn genre I hate and makes it something I love.

Highly recommended.

The film plays SLAMDANCE tomorrow the 23rd at 1030PM and on the 26th at 10AM for tickets and more information go to the festival webpage

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