Throughout The Lesson, debutant director Ruth Platt weaves a narrative that is littered with complexity. From the exploration of totalitarianism in Orwell, to a gauged look at contemporary Britain, this is a film evidently from the mind of an educated (Literature at Oxford if you must know) individual.
Made on a shoestring budget, Platt’s film is an amalgamation of themes with a torture porn twist. In an overt social commentary on the education system, and perhaps generally the youth of modern Britannia, The Lesson sees a mistreated teacher (Hands) finally snap as he attempts to teach his two most troublesome pupils (Bendall & Coltart) a proper lesson… With the aid of a nail-gun.
The protagonist Finn (Bendall) is interesting; in many ways he is an embodiment of what it means to be a youth in suburban England today, disenfranchised and existential, wandering around cul-de-sacs and parks whilst necking cheap cider and talking of leaving a country he knows he’ll probably reside in for the rest of his days. There is also an Eden Lake feel to his character though, as if the line between troubled working class lad and chav-culture caricature has been blurred, at one point he claims “you can’t be a foreigner if you’re English”. Perhaps Platt sets up Finn’s ignorance to later be quelled in a Francis Bacon/Thomas Hobbes “knowledge is power” sort of message, but in reality he just isn’t a very nice kid.
Robert Hands performance as the twisted teacher Mr. Gale is one of the majorly impressive aspects of the film. He screams about the societal allegories of Golding whilst giving Finn ten seconds to look up the meaning of ‘allegory’ in the dictionary, in a menacing game that is half lecture, half torture. For a low-budget horror the practical effects are pretty convincing too, even if they err on the side of being too exploitative.
Ultimately, Platt has done a pretty good job of presenting horror with a heart. The whole film at times though feels somewhat strangled by its overkill of themes; to some degree an art house flick, yet at points just another B-movie. Painful acting negates certain scenes and some narrative threads dangle upon climax. Nevertheless, The Lesson is a solid debut and hopefully Platt will continue to refine her clearly intelligent filmmaking into slightly more cohesive realms.
THE LESSON / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: RUTH PLATT / SCREENPLAY: RUTH PLATT / STARRING: ROBERT HANDS, EVAN BENDALL, RORY COLTART, MICHAELA PRCHALOVA, TOM COX / RELEASE DATE: JULY 11TH