Ginger Nuts of Horror
an effective low budget, independent horror film with an interesting central premise
Over the last almost eighteen months, Film Gutter has been something of an international quest to try and find the most twisted cinema out there. But it only occurs to me in writing this review that this might well be the first I've looked at from my home nation, right here in the UK. It feels good to be reviewing something home-grown here – certainly not because I'm the wildest of patriots, but as a British-based column on a British-based website it'd be nice to give a bit of a plug to something from these shores. And now the opportunity has come with The Lesson, not long released having recently been screened at venues including Frightfest and Glasgow Film Festival.
The Lesson, not surprisingly, starts in a school environment and follows a trio of boys – including out lead, Finn – who are basically teenage delinquents. They skip school, key people's cars, drink, smoke and are generally bullying towards teachers and many of their fellow students. Finn's home life is pretty unusual, as he lives with his older brother, Jake, and his Russian partner Mia, although there's a distinct sexual tension between Mia and Finn throughout the movie. The opening of the movie sets you up to dislike the lead and sympathise with the put-upon teachers and school staff, which it does promptly turn on its head through the dark schemings of English teacher Mr Gale.
While they're out one evening, Finn and his friend Whiteley are knocked unconscious and Finn awakens to find himself tied to a table in a garage somewhere. And in this situation, for once, Mr Gale has Finn's undivided attention. Gale appeared so mild-mannered and middle-aged in his previous appearance in the movie, but here is a much-changed man, broken by years of his ideals being shattered and unremitting intimidation and ignorance from his students. Now it is full-on, bipolar insanity from Gale. It's a fine performance from Robert Hands, whose nervous energy and non-stop philosophical rhetoric carry much of the movie. And his quest is to teach Finn about inspiration, motivation and the things that truly make life great, using Lord of the Flies as a metaphor for the lives of modern schoolchildren.
In all honesty, I couldn't tell how much of the philosophy poured out by Gale is genuinely relevant, but it doesn't matter all that much, because he believes in his words so intensely. And he also believes that the immediate threat of violence is a great motivator, threatening to nail Finn's hand to the table if he takes more than ten seconds to find a word in the dictionary – and eventually doing it too. There's much worse to come, too, as Mia finds herself drawn into the nightmare Finn is forced to endure...
Honestly, there's more than a touch of Saw to this one, with Gale in the role of a verbose Jigsaw determined to teach Finn just how much there is to life beyond his limited view. It sort of plays out as a low-fi British version of the successful US franchise, which is not meant as a bad thing. There's a definite grittiness and unpleasantness to this which the lack of technology and expertise from Gale enhances, and the feeling of watching two kids – even though they are older and distinctly unpleasant kids – go through this ordeal is a pretty tense and uncomfortable experience. For me, there are two things really holding this back – one, unfortunately, is the role Finn plays in the story. I don't think it's actually the performance, but more the script, which calls from him to sit silently for long spells and doesn't really help you to engage with his plight as a character. Secondly, it also feels like there's something inherently wrong with the moral point here; the ending left a slightly bad taste in my mouth, but I won't go so far as to spoil that one for you.
The Lesson, overall, is an effective low budget, independent horror film with an interesting central premise and a particularly fine performance from Robert Hands buoying the whole thing up immensely. It's not perfect, but it is eminently watchable despite a slightly muddy ethical point and one or two somewhat stereotypical performances. It's not the most shocking we've watched but it'll certainly keep your eyes on the screen for its full running time. So I'll award this one a scholarly 7/10. Let's call it a safe B, shall we...
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Film Gutter Volume 1 is the full collection of 2015 reviews and interviews from Ginger Nuts of Horror's popular Film Gutter series, looking at some of the most bizarre, grotesque and disturbing horror features ever made. With over 50 movie reviews plus interviews with directors and actors including Tom Six, Dieter Laser, Matthew A Brown Jimmy Weber and Phil Stevens. Film Gutter Volume 1 also takes in a host of exclusive content, including the much-requested 'most disturbing movies' list!
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