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 The Lesson - Frightfest 2015

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Enlightened Viewer

PostSubject: The Lesson - Frightfest 2015   Wed Sep 09, 2015 9:01 pm

The first feature film written and directed by Ruth Platt; The Lesson, was given its World Premiere at Frightfest on the 31st August 2015. The film festival guide describes The Lesson as an; ‘..astonishingly bravura art-house horror..’. In addition Platt’s film is; ‘A dark claustrophobic and bloody coming of age love story..’. Although I don’t disagree with either of these comments, I consider that Platt achieves far more than just the sum of these two observations.

The Lesson takes place in an area which reminded me of a new town, or city suburb. The school children depicted aren’t from the gutter; they’re from a reasonable neighbourhood with neat houses, where public parks have long sweeping pathways and their school uniforms appear clean, tidy and pressed. In perceiving how this neat urban area would function, the viewer can be forgiven for expecting caring family units to reside there. Yet, the suburb is revealed as soulless; empty of love and affection, bland and unstimulating to the youth that reside there. Somehow, this is an almost subliminal message held close to the films core. The emptiness of the streets and the park we see the youngsters in, gradually seeps into the viewer’s subconscious. I felt this message led the viewer to a certain level of understanding, concerning the teenager’s behaviour towards authoritative figures. An important perspective perhaps, for a film that can be described as morally ambiguous.

After a slow start, which does serve to impress upon the viewer aspects of how the youngsters, at the centre of the films narrative, live and are cared for, attention is switched to an incident at the school they attend. After the teenagers disrespect one of their teachers, The Lesson switches tone and presents the viewer with a tale of repercussive revenge, whereby a very harsh lesson is taught. The scene presented here is no holds barred, violent and will be regarded by some as torture porn. Certain aspects are deliberately stylised, for example the way blood is displayed upon the neck of Fin’s friend Joel (Rory Coltart). However, what I found interesting was how this tale of soullessness and revenge, resulted in epiphany and redemption. Also, although the ‘lesson’ section is, at times, hard to watch, the empty realism of life in the suburbs, also at school, juxtaposes nicely with the painful awakening to the vastness of intellectual information contained within the lesson the boys are subjected to.

Dialogue in The Lesson is well written and confidently handled by all members of the cast. Robert Hands excels at imparting the ‘lesson’ and his performance, as a teacher who is pushed over the edge, is believable. Other performances of note are that of Fin (Evan Bendall) who manages to portray how isolated and self-involved the world of a teenager can be; also Michaela Prchalova. Her carefully judged portrayal of care and attraction is well realised. As director Ruth Platt is no stranger to acting and being filmed by a camera, I have no doubt her own experiences assisted in getting terrific performances out of her young cast, all of whom are newcomers to film acting.

The black and white scenes which recall Fin’s memories of time spent with his mother and father are nicely edited into the brightness of day. The obvious dichotomy between light and dark are used to illustrate irresponsibility and the manner in which Fin is almost sleepwalking through life, against the horror and awakening which occurs when his teacher takes control.

As The Lesson unfolded, I became aware that, rather than containing social commentary about the difficulties faced by teachers in a particular classroom environment, the films integral message concerns the absence of love and security in the home; the lack of a parental figurehead and the repercussions such a lack could enable. Consequently, there is a real sense of cause and effect generated by events in Fin’s life during the course of the film. Arguably, the primary cause of his dislocation, from intellectual discourse and personal responsibility, is the sense of being unloved.

If social commentary in horror films is of interest to you, The Lesson is a must see. If you enjoy a taut coming of age drama and like horror films where the camera doesn’t always turn away, you’ll enjoy this. Personally, I found The Lesson to be a powerful, well-acted and tautly directed film, where social commentary was the icing on the cake. But, be prepared for moral ambiguity, as this appears to be a sizeable portion of the cake on offer.

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