The title of the latest dystopian shocker promises a “Shaun of the Dead” style romp.
So do the poster and trailer, to a degree.
“School’s Out Forever” is nothing of the kind. It’s a brooding snapshot of societal decay with an oh, so prescient hook. A pandemic wipes out most of humanity, with signs teasing “jabs” and other relevant buzz words. That’s an A+ on the zeitgeist scale to go with “C” entertainment.
What’s missing? Characters to rally behind and a coherency even the bleakest thrillers require.
Young Lee Keegan (Oscar Kennedy) just got expelled from his prep school for a not-so-incendiary prank. He soon finds a much larger problem awaits.
A pandemic is sweeping England (and the world?), and suddenly he’s nursing his dying Pa and wondering what to do next. His mother suggests he take shelter at his old school, where a gaggle of fellow survivors are hunkered down.
The aforementioned societal decay quickly invades the building. Lee and his best bud, Mac (Liam Lau Fernandez), must rally the students and repel a band of armed country folk without losing their humanity.
Good luck on the latter.
Morality’s swift decline is an all-too-familiar trope, one typically employed in zombie romps. Here, the subject gets a class envy upgrade, but it’s mostly tied to a speech given by a powerful matriarch (Samantha Bond).
That leaves far too much time in the prep school, a setting ripe with story angles that never fully bloom. Nor do we connect with the students, their level-headed superior or even their potential foes. Only the school’s nurse and sorta kinda love interest (Jasmine Blackborow) registers.
It’s cardboard character atop cardboard character, but the thinness really hurts when Lee and Mac are center stage. Kennedy is permanently bland, and Fernandez lacks the charismatic snap to make his devolution worth our attention.
The prep school represents the upper class, even if the students seem like teens from any ol’ academy. The reg’lar folks, better armed and primed for battle, are sick of “open borders” and other cultural trends. The film doesn’t sermonize, for the most part. Still, the themes are abruptly tapped and just as quickly discarded. A little nuance, aided by consistency, might have helped.
Writer/director Oliver S. Milburn doles out some seriously grisly moments, the kind even jaded horror fans might applaud. It’s not the blood and gore on screen but the ferocity of the death blows.
Be prepared to wince.
Adapted from young adult books by Scott K. Andrews’ dubbed the “Afterblight Chronicles,” “School’s Out Forever” occasionally tries to tickle our funny bones. The tonal disconnect has rarely been so profound. This is gloomy stuff, and the film’s first act moves at a glacial pace.
Laughs have little room to flower.
The third act offers a battle royale of sorts, suggesting Milburn has a knack for choreographing shocking exchanges. More often the story is choppy, the narrative barely holding the elements together.
There’s even a dash of “Home Alone”-style trickery to keep us engaged.
The final moments deliver the most unnecessarily dragged out death scene in recent memory and an epilogue that’s both absurd and leavened with woke.
If the minds behind “School’s Out Forever” had world building in mind, they’ve left us with nary a brick to start their project.
HiT or Miss: “School’s Out Forever” teases a complex shocker, but the disparate elements never line up for our inspection.