GORE IN THE STORE
SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER ****
Directed by Oliver Milburn.
Starring Oscar Kennedy, Liam Lau Fernandez, Alexander Macqueen.
Horror, UK, 105 minutes, certificate 15.
On DVD & Blu-ray from the 12th April 2021. Also available to order on Amazon
Fifteen-year-old troublemaker Lee Keegan has just been expelled from boarding school. Adding to the problem of losing his scholarship there is the matter of a deadly pandemic that is plunging the country into chaos. The radio constantly broadcasts news interviews with government ministers who are constantly changing their positions on quarantining the country and closing its borders while petrol stations are burdened with cars looking for the last remaining drops of fuel to take them to safety. A quick cut to three weeks later shows how fast the situation has deteriorated, forcing Lee to go back to the safety of the boarding school. However, the dystopian situation soon makes its way past the tall gates of the privileged school forcing young Lee to confront the increasingly dangerous, anarchic and lethal state of affairs.
Based on a novel that was part of a loosely linked franchise titled The Afterblight Chronicles, SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER is the first film production to be released by Rebellion, the computer games company who are also responsible for publishing 2000AD. A much harder edged film than its premise and promotional materials suggest it echoes the 1970’s ACTION comic strip KIDS RULE OK, another near future dystopian tale that found itself partly responsible for getting ACTION banned with its infamous depiction of children violently assaulting the police, among other delightfully violent events. In a roundabout way the banning of ACTION led to the creation of 2000AD which in its own roundabout way leads to the creation of The Afterblight Chronicles, which shares a number of writers with the self-titled Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, and finally leads us onto this loose film adaptation.
Director Oliver Milburn with co-screenwriter Scott K. Andrews, adapting from his own book manage to capture the anti-establishment spirit and violent take no prisoners approach that characterises a lot of Rebellion’s comic output. The question is however if right now is the best time to release a film that deals with a lethal pandemic and a nation that finds itself bitterly divided and turning in on itself. The sight here of an abandoned medical clinic with a handmade sign hanging on its fence declaring “NO FU JABS LEFT” could not be more unsettling with its coincidentally timely nature. Over the course of its one-hundred-minute running time the plot gets increasingly darker and violent with the school coming under siege from, of all things, a nearby heavily armed parish council with an extreme authoritarian streak. At times the film comes across like an English public school take on BATTLE ROYALE as uniformed children tote rifles and lob acid filled jars at riled up villagers.
The script presents such situations with a near satirical edge; the kids are able to grasp rifles and shotguns to a near expert level because of their video game skills. However, the tone often skids haphazardly all over the place at times with misjudged or just plain unsuccessful humour. The cast manage to sell the films darker moments with a greater degree of success. As Lee, Oscar Kennedy puts across the naivety and inexperience of his character without coming across as inept or annoying while Alexander Macqueen, more familiar for his comedic performances in THE THICK OF IT, makes for a surprisingly sympathetic authority figure who knows he is out of his depth in an impossible situation.
This is a well-paced and surprisingly gripping film that does not hold its punches. Its open ending leaves the door open for more journeys through this plague-ridden new world. Whether Rebellion will feel like taking the audience through such a hellish and now near familiar environment remains to be seen, or maybe the promise of more familiar and enticing 2000AD adaptations could be in the pipeline. Either way it bodes well for Rebellion as a new player in the British sci-fi and horror scene.