THE SCHOOL, Australia, 2018. Starring Megan Drury, Wil McDonald, Jack Ruwald, Alexia Santosuosso, Milly Allcock, Nicholas Hope, Leah Ashwood. Directed by Storm Ashwood. 86 minutes. Rated M (Supernatural themes, violence and coarse language).
A very general and unrevealing title for a film! No, it is not the expected kind of school, definitely not.
This is a very small budget Australian feature by a young director and writer. He is wanting to draw on the traditions of horror films, nightmares… And this is what he presents. This is a film for devotees of the horror genre – although, there is not so much physical violence or gore on display here, but rather nightmare and menace, it might better be described as ‘creepy’.
It takes a while to sort out what is actually going on, the audience immersed in a dramatic puzzle, a psychological puzzle, worlds of dream and reality.
The focus is on a skilful doctor (Megan Drury) and her career. However, she emerges from a drain into a mysterious basement, not knowing what has happened to her, sometimes getting flashes of illumination, remembering who she is. She has been professionally successful and the veteran doctor at the hospital (Nicholas Hope) is concerned about her welfare. Gradually, the audience realises that there have been tensions with her husband, his devotion to their son, her concentrating on her career and advancement, an accident for the son and his going into coma, her continued concern over so many months.
These are her memories. But there are also her nightmares, concerned about her son, the possibility of threats.
How real are the nightmares? She finds that she is in the remains of an old school, and that there are mysterious students still roaming the school, some very wary of her, some sympathetic, a number of small children and she tries to protect. But, there is also the arrogant leader of the young people, Zak (Wil McDonald). Audiences who might feel in a literary frame of mind as they watch the film might be reminded of Lord of the Flies.
And so, in and out of reality, in and out of nightmare, the mission for the doctor to save the children, to confront their violent and malicious leader. Who are the children? Have they been victims of neglect? The doctor and her saving mission – and some atonement.
So many films of this kind have been made, in Australia as well as in America, small-budget, independently produced, experiments in their own way – and an invitation to audiences who like this kind of genre to allow for some shortcomings but to encourage the writers and directors to continue with their film careers.
Backlot films Released 6th December
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.