VOD film review: The Lesson
Matthew Turner | On 01, Mar 2016
Director: Ruth Platt
Cast: Robert Hands, Evan Bendall, Michaela Prchalová, Rory Coltart, Tom Cox
Watch The Lesson online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Likely to be a big hit on the substitute teacher circuit, this low-budget British horror from debut writer-director Ruth Platt is inspired by the true story of a teacher of 20 years good standing who suddenly attacked a student, causing him serious head injuries. The result is a compelling variation on the torture genre that plays interesting games with its audience.
Set in a rural British town, the film introduces us to average schoolboy Fin (Bendall), who lives at home with his older brother, Jake (Cox), while nursing a crush on Jake’s live-in girlfriend, Mia (Michaela Prchalová), all of which is a little awkward, since Jake and Mia are effectively his surrogate parents. Meanwhile, at school, Fin’s best friend is ginger troublemaker Joel (Coltart), a nasty piece of work who takes particular delight in tormenting put-upon teacher Mr Gale (Hands).
However, unbeknownst to Fin and Joel, Mr Hands has been pushed to breaking point and he snaps, kidnapping both boys and holding them against their will. And when he starts firing up the power tools, it soon becomes clear that he intends to teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget.
Hands is excellent, delivering an engaging, complex performance that ensures Mr Gale remains largely sympathetic throughout, which adds a complicated wrinkle to our feelings towards his actions. Similarly, Coltart is eminently slappable as Joel (he has it coming, no question), while Bendall is interestingly neutral as Fin – neither as outright awful as his friend, nor as immediately likeable as your standard horror protagonist.
To that end, Platt does an excellent job of manipulating our sympathies, to the point where we’re pretty much rooting for Joel to get his come-uppance in the early section. But the script cleverly refuses easy gratification, as Joel remains frustratingly unconscious for most of the ordeal, leaving the comparatively more innocent Fin to endure the various tortures.
Crucially, Platt doesn’t skimp on the nailgun-related gore, pulling off some effectively gloopy moments that are extremely impressive, especially considering the limited budget. In addition, the script has a lot of fun with its various ideas, particularly that Hands’ education-via-torture methods are seen to be effective, at least in the short term (Fin learns the meaning of “totalitarianism”, for example).
The only slight let-down is that the script feels a little patchy in places, with the love story not carrying quite as much weight as it should (Prchalová is a striking presence but not the best actress), while elements of the lesson itself could be a lot tighter and more impactful, suggesting Gale should have perhaps have spent a bit more time on his lesson plan beforehand.
Nonetheless, the film works because of its innate relatability – everybody remembers the teachers who were intimidated by the nastier kids at school, just as there are surely large numbers of teachers who will derive a certain vicarious pleasure from Gale’s payback. It’s not hard to imagine copies of The Lesson being passed around the staff room in the very near future.
The Lesson is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.