It’s rather unfortunate that Australian cinema really doesn’t have the greatest reputation. It’s not that we aren’t capable of delivering quality homegrown productions, it’s just that we so seldom do, so when something like The School comes along, you can’t help but feel both a sense of disappointment and expectation.
To be fair to writer/director Storm Ashwood‘s horror-lite feature, it is at least attempting something mildly original, an attribute so few first-time filmmakers attempt in our fair land; no down-trodden figures of (insert any Aus location) suburbia here, so points for that.
However, as promising as it is to see a locally made film earn cinematic traction, The School is far from being the type of material one seeks out specifically. Yes, there’s a uniqueness on hand, and the back-and-forth story strands between the real world and a dark other realm is putty for the horror genre. But, there seems to almost be a lack of directional control as the outlandish elements in the story often result in too theatrical a performance, and The School sadly crumbles under its untested talent.
The film can’t be faulted though in the determination of its lead, Megan Drury, who perseveres through a questionable script and her less-organic co-stars as Amy Wintercraig, a depressive doctor who refuses to give up on her comatose son. Two years on, and with no indication his condition is improving, Amy’s denial and selfish obsession only grows, so much to the point that she loses touch with reality and finds herself in an endless purgatory where she hunts for her son, whilst simultaneously hoping to save the neglected children tortured in this underworld hell.
As enticing as that sounds as a horror concept (Ashwood even filmed segments in a rundown mental hospital for genre effect) The School‘s disorientating mentality, occasionally violent aesthetic, and underused ingredients (Nicholas Hope as a possibly-sinister doctor never feels wholly utilised) all clash with one another to produce a well-intentioned product that’s never as gothically fantastical as it clearly aims to be. Also, Home & Away alum Will McDonald doesn’t possess nearly enough maniacal charm and restraint to execute unhinged villain authentically, essentially allowing the film to decline to student-level mediocrity whenever his character – the leader of a group of half-dead children – makes an appearance.
A film that is best perhaps admired for what it attempts rather than viewed for its entertainment value, something it unfortunately doesn’t possess, The School goes for broke in its bid to provide escapism within the Australian horror landscape and sadly ends up bankrupt with little to show for it after its scant 88 minute journey.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The School is playing in select theatres across Australia for a limited season from December 6th 2018