Who’d be a teacher, eh?

I mean, sure, there’s the great holidays.

And the pay’s not to be sniffed at.

And the easy access to impressionable teenagers (well, for some…).

And when you get right down to it, telling kids to read chapters 3 & 4 of To Kill A Mockingbird or making them do PE in their pants, as jobs go, is far less taxing than being a trawlerman or a coal miner, selling double glazing or being a jizz mopper in a Soho peep show.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying teaching is easy (though we all know it’s a bit of a skoosh…). But I do know at least three teachers with addiction issues (drugs, booze and gambling) that would get them sacked from most other jobs. Even working at Cex.

Those who can do, those who can’t…well…

And while the biggest threat most teachers have to face is Nicky Morgan, cinematically, ever since a sneering young Vic Morrow pulled a flick knife on Daddio Glen Ford, teachers have had it pretty tough. Sure, every so often there’ll be a Mr Chips or a Mr Keating or a Mr Holland who’s beloved by their students but, for the most part, whether it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s ex-marine bringing Bob Dylan to the ghetto or Morgan Freeman and Jim Belushi both falling back on baseball bats as a teaching aid, teaching on screen is more dangerous than being a test pilot. And every so often a teacher will reach the end of their tether, snap and start teaching their students a real lesson, like Samuel L. Jackson’s Trevor Garfield in 187. Or Robert Hands Mr Gale in The Lesson.

Fin (Evan Bendall) and Joel (Rory Coltart) are a pair of teenage chav wasters, vicious, unrepentant little scumbags, bullying their classmates and making life a living hell for their teachers, particularly highly-strung English teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands).

The more sensitive of the two, Fin, is haunted by memories of his dead mother and abusive father, lives with his bullying older brother Jake (Tom Cox) and Jake’s Eastern European girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalova) a few years Fin’s senior for whom he secretly harbours feelings, the only beautiful thing in his otherwise brutish life.

One evening, when the thuggish pair are out celebrating Fin’s 16th birthday with some cheap booze and a spot of random vandalism, they are attacked and knocked out, Fin waking up to find himself and the still unconscious Joel chained to chairs in a garage, their hands tied to the desks in front of them, a hooded figure scrawling quotes from Hobbes and Rousseau on a whiteboard in this makeshift classroom, forcing Fin to read William Blake and debate the allegory of Animal Farm and the inherent irony of The Lord Of The Flies (particularly given their situation). Even as he’s nailing Fin’s hands to the table. Tonight, Mr Gale is going to teach Fin and Joel a lesson. Even if it kills them…

Written and directed by former actress Ruth Platt, The Lesson (not to be confused with the wonderful 2014 Bulgarian film which is just as grim but features 100% less child torture) takes it’s Stoic mantra of “Only the educated are free,” to extremes, Platt creating almost a kitchen sink torture porn movie, her story grounded in gritty realism, the violence evolving organically from the characters, none of whom, with the exception of the steely Mia (whose lightening-lit nighttime search for Fin is one of the quietly beautiful highlights of the film), are remotely likable.

Coltart’s Joel is a swaggering little sociopathic alpha male familiar from every middle class audience member’s street corner nightmares while Benthall’s Fin, the more sensitive, intelligent of the two is perhaps worse, a follower when he should be a leader. They deserve everything they’ve got coming to them though Platt’s focus on the slow-burn build of their character and the wretchedness of Fin’s day-to-day existence bleeds their ordeal of the traditional, scopophilic pleasures of torture porn and makes for uncomfortable viewing. Hands’ sensitive, civilised teacher meanwhile, brutalised by two decades of teaching vicious little shits, who cracks and decides kidnap, torture and murder are the best ways to get through to the student body is a self-pitying psychopath, his actions inexcusable, his psychosis and sadism a dark passenger that’s been patiently waiting for an outlet.

Dark, bleak and nasty, Platt’s The Lesson is a claustrophobic, slow-burning little thriller that may just be the best film of this year’s FrightFest (and one of the few directed by a woman!). If your schooldays really are the best days of your life, if they were anything like The Lesson, you’re probably a vicious, sadistic psychopath.

 

Frightfest London review: The Lesson
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (9 Votes)

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