VOD film review: School’s Out Forever
Ivan Radford | On 17, Feb 2021
Director: Oliver Milburn
Cast: Oscar Kennedy, Alex Macqueen, Jasmine Blackborow, Anthony Head, Samantha Bond
Watch School’s Out Forever: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Google Play / Sky Store
“Can everyone please stop pretending things are going back to normal?” cries someone at the start of this sci-fi horror-comedy, in which a flu-like pandemic pushes the world into apocalyptic territory. While that might sound like an uncomfortably timely release at the start of 2021, School’s Out Forever is a surprisingly enjoyable ride.
It helps that the pandemic in question is more zombie-like than anything experienced by the world in real life – the film is based on the 2019 novel of the same name by Scott K Andrews – and, crucially, that the film isn’t interested in cheaply exploiting horror or trauma for entertainment purposes. Our hero is Lee (Oscar Kennedy), who discovers that he is immune due to his blood type (O negative). And so, under the telephoned instructions of his absent mum, he heads to the one place nearby that might provide safe haven: St Mark’s boys school.
We first meet Lee as he’s being expelled from that very same institution for a silly schoolboy prank by an amusingly deadpan Anthony Head as the headmaster. But within 24 hours, Lee’s back behind school doors, and the only remnants of the teaching staff still in action are Mr Bates (Alex Macqueen) and the matron (Jasmine Blackborow). Together with Lee’s mate, Mac (Liam Lau Fernandez), they form a rag-rag group of survivors using the building as a stronghold from which to hold Armageddon at bay.
Supply runs to abandoned shops and homes lead to the group crossing paths with a militant bunch who turn out to be the local parish council – led by a violently ambitious politician, Georgina (Samantha Bond). What ensues is part-siege, part-shootout and all kinds of dark.
From schoolkids holding weapons to teachers desperately failing to keep control, it’s a minefield of potentially dreadful jokes and demises, but director Oliver Milburn has a firm grasp of tone. He navigates the ensemble through the Lord of the Flies-esque scenario with a knack for capturing the way that the younger members rely on the things they know – deodorant cans turned into flamethrowers, Call of Duty as target practice – and the way the adults fall back on traditional hierarchies, both to mixed success.
Alex Macqueen, whose background is more in comedy than horror, brings out the laughable attempts to retain normality, while Oscar Kennedy, fresh from impressing in BBC Three’s Ladhood, grounds it all with a sense of how harrowing this formative ordeal is – a simmering confrontation between Lee and Mac is the climax of his coming-of-age arc. While we giggle at the playful editing and occasionally witty dialogue, the jet-black humour doesn’t undermine the very serious stakes at hand, and Milburn’s judicious use of gory horror only emphasises the brutal reality of what’s required to survive. That might not seem like the kind of escapism the world needs right now, but this balance of teen movie, apocalyptic thriller and Shaun of the Dead is a fun watch.