In one of the most intense, pedal-to-the-metal opening flourishes of any film you’re likely to see in the next few months, The School kicks off with a woman emerging from a bathtub filled with bracken water into a strange, inexplicable world filled with terrified children and ghoulish monsters. It’s a great statement of intent, and it gets The School off to an absolutely flying start. Surprisingly, this low budget Aussie belter then maintains the hectic pace, veering off in all directions, and ultimately playing out like a weird crash-together of Pan’s Labyrinth, Lord Of The Flies, The Babadook and The Others.
The woman in the bath is Dr. Amy Wintercraig (a committed and sensitive turn from Megan Drury), and the inexplicable world that she enters is some kind of strange place between worlds, where children have been abandoned to fend for themselves. The result is a harsh, cruel world populated by feral kids in face-paint, invading monsters (namely the creepy “weepers” and even creepier “hungries”), nightmare visions, and a dangerously inhumane leader in the form of brutal teenager, Zac (Will McDonald). This strange world also involves Dr. Amy Wintercraig’s son and her own personal demons, which are slowly revealed in the film’s equally edgy “real world” scenes featuring a welcome appearance from Bad Boy Bubby’s Nicholas Hope as a suspiciously benign doctor.
Belying an obviously tight budget, debut feature director, Storm Ashwood (who has a number of shorts to his credit), creates an impressively bravura dream-come-nightmare world here, making an ingenious use of interior sets and cannily employed CGI. The performances are strong (child actors, Jack Ruwald and Alexia Santosuosso, are great as Amy’s kindly but needy hosts in this strange new world), and a vivid sense of unease and controlled chaos are expertly maintained throughout. The crashing genres don’t always mesh, but The School remains an impressive piece of local low budget horror.