From Wolf Creek to The Babadook, Australia has delivered some great horror imports over the years. Just last year, critics heaped praised on a couple of Australian exports including the gritty Hounds of Love and supernatural-themed Boys in The Trees. Hoping to follow in their footsteps, writer and director Storm Ashwood’s creepy looking horror offering, The School, is now available on VOD-streaming services. Back in July, promotional material for The School promised to take audiences on a frightening journey through a visually imaginative nightmare labyrinth. And then the movie just silently fell under the radar.
Dr. Amy Wintercraig is a successful surgeon whose son nearly drowned to death. Now he’s hospitalized in a coma with little chance for recovery. But Amy clings to the belief that her son will wake up. But when she somehow falls into her own coma, Amy awakens in an abandoned, decrepit school. In the tattered halls of this nightmare world, she she is confronted by supernatural forces that haunt her. Believing her son may be lost in the same dark world, Amy must confront the horrors of ‘The School’ to save him.
The School Forgot to Include The Scares With Its Assignment
I really wanted to like The School. I did. Early promotional materials promised a creepy descent into every parent’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, writer and director Storm Ashwood did not read the syllabus. Horror fans will likely be disappointed with The School’s lack of scares. Things initially look rather promising in the movie’s prologue. But the potential disappears quickly. Nothing remotely approaching atmosphere or tension makes an appearance for the rest of the movie. You’ll be begging for a cheap jump scare as the end approaches.
You’ll be begging for a cheap jump scare as the end approaches.
Occasionally, The School delivers on some horror imagery. Creatures referred to as ‘The Hungries’ turn up now and then to remind the audience that they’re a horror movie. Much of the budget also seems to have been set aside for ‘The Hungries’, as they’re fairly memorable, if not a little derivative. Of course, this also means that there wasn’t as much budget left over for other effects. Some of the The School’s make-up effects look obviously cheap. At some points, this noticeable dip in quality is jolting enough to really pull you out of the movie’s story.
Incoherent Storytelling Drags Things Down
If there’s a glaring problem with The School, it’s with storytelling. In spite of its promising premise, The School is a convoluted mess in its execution. Internal consistency and logic are missing from the movie’s mythology. The further along you get into the movie, the more confusing the story becomes. The ‘who’s’ and ‘why’s’ of the story feel jumbled by the end. Matters aren’t helped by the overall lack of atmosphere and engagement. You’ll find the story confusing and not really care much by the time the climax rolls around. It doesn’t help that most of the cast are forced to deliver some awful expository dialogue over and over again.
…The School is an unconvincing mishmash of styles and genres.
On a similar note, The School is an unconvincing mishmash of styles and genres. That’s not to say that horror films cannot effectively borrow and use different genre styles. Aussie flick, The Boys in the Trees, was poignant mix of horror, fantasy, and coming-of-age story. Ashwood just can’t seem to get a handle on how much of each genre he wants in the movie. In its opening moments, The School feels like a horror film. Things then shift to an almost Peter Pan-esque child fantasy story. Moreover, these tonal shifts feel awkward in their execution. Like the mixed quality of make-up effect, tonal shifts in The School feel jarring. It never feels like a cohesive viewing experience.
Miscasting and Bland Performances
Much of the cast is comprised of young children. All of the young performers meet any realistic expectation. As Dr. Amy Wintercraig, Megan Drury gives a surprisingly bland performance. In all fairness, Drury doesn’t have much to work with in the screenplay. Though her character’s conflict should be emotionally charged, The School never gives her much of an opportunity to channel much emotion. Instead, Drury is regulated to spending most of the movie looking stunned.
Home and Away star, Will McDonald has the movie’s toughest role as the film’s villain, Zac. It’s an underwhelming performance that is due in part to miscasting. McDonald just doesn’t seem right for the role. But again the screenplay is a culprit. McDonald’s character is one of the movie’s more poorly defined roles.
Ultimately, The School doesn’t just drop the ball on its premise. It takes that premise, shoots it out of a cannon, and then stomps on the ashes. There’s very little to recommend to horror fans. The School is a confusing movie saddled with underwhelming effects and performances and a lack of scares. If you’re suffering from a bit of Halloween hangover, you’d be better off ‘cutting class’ on The School.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: D