The plot in School’s Out Forever hits rather close to home: a virus suddenly spreads across the globe, causing death, hysteria, distrust, fear and anger. Based on the novel by Scott K. Andrews and filmed in 2019, the film, written and directed by Oliver Milburn and produced by Emma Biggins, follows protagonist Lee Keegan (Oscar Kennedy), an egotistical private school teenager with a knack for getting in trouble; the opening sequence sees him pulling off a stunt and subsequently facing the ultimate repercussion from the unforgiving Headmaster: expulsion.
Shortly thereafter, we find that some time has passed, but exactly how much time is unclear. Enough, it seems, for Lee to be entirely desensitized to the discovery of a bloody corpse at the end of his driveway, as he barely gives it a second glance. The virus, seemingly showing little mercy to most of society, has spared our protagonist. The reason for this will soon be revealed in a phone call from his mother who instructs him to seek shelter at his private school (her son’s expulsion remains unknown to her) until she can come for him.
The remainder of the film follows Lee as he returns to his school and joins his best friend, nicknamed “Mack” (Liam Lau Fernandez), the nurse (Jasmine Blackborow), a teacher (Alex Macqueen) and a group of students in discussing the impact of the virus and how to stay alive. It does not take long for an opposing group of survivors to enter the school grounds and for a deadly fight to take place, the consequence of which sets the ball rolling for the remainder of the film’s events and climax.
What could have been an interesting study on the rapid breakdown of society at-large in an apocalyptic event and how a group of survivors bands together to create a functioning mini society, instead gets lost to grotesque imagery, underdeveloped plotlines, and an inexplicable, total personality shift in one of the central characters seemingly within hours. While such circumstances would certainly challenge even the most stoic of personalities, witnessing a 180-degree change in this character seemingly overnight that came with gut-wrenching repercussions is, overall, unbelievable.
As the film’s climax nears, a character waxes poetic largely by way of voiceover that the breakdown of society was long overdue, insinuating the virus was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back, stating that with apparent modern issues such as “franchised bakeries, we were heading for a collapse one way or another.” This kind of sentiment feels a bit too relevant as we witness, in the real world’s pandemic, the closures of independent shops while large chains chug along seemingly unaffected.
The film’s score is well done, especially when old-fashioned tunes are juxtaposed with characters making horrifying discoveries or decisions; the light-hearted crooning playing over terrifying images helps create discomfort and anxiety in the viewer. Similarly, fight scenes are well-executed, and are also often graphic (sometimes unnecessarily so).
In all, School’s Out Forever does not quite know what point it is trying to make, but it still works as an escapist film that does not require too much deep thought or analysis (as long as the viewer separates the subject matter from the very real ongoing worldwide events). An exasperated Mack asks of his group at one point: “Can everyone please stop pretending things are going back to normal?”
There is always hope, Mack, as the film’s hastily-assembled final act shows us. There is always hope, and that, perhaps, is the greatest takeaway from School’s Out Forever.
sci-fi, Drama | UK, 2021 | 15 | Digital HD | 15th February 2021 (UK) / 12th April 2021 (DVD) | Rebellion |Dir.Oliver Milburn | Oscar Kennedy, Liam Lau Fernandez, Alex Macqueen, Samantha Bond, Jasmine Blackborow, Steve Oram, Anthony Head