Dir. Johannes Roberts
A number of teachers and pupils staying late in a suburban school are menaced by murderous youths.
The problems faced by teachers in British schools have been fairly ubiquitous in mainstream media for a number of years now. As well as having to contend with an overwhelming abundance of bureaucracy and red tape on a daily basis, in increasingly extreme cases they’re also having to deal with violence from pupils and parents. A number of cases have been well publicised in British newspapers, as have instances involving desperate teachers snapping and turning on their students. To ensure I don’t digress into a rant, just go here to read about the trials and tribulations facing those in the teaching profession today.
F, along with a number of recent similarly themed films such as Eden Lake and Cherry Tree Lane, as well as the French home invasion shocker Ills, and the American slow-burner The Strangers, highlight how the media’s depiction of a wayward generation seemingly out of control (yes Daily Mail, I mean you) has become fertile ground for horror filmmakers exploiting a new national fear of today’s youth. And in what better location to weave a tale of ‘hoodie horror’ than the volatile environment of a thread-bare comprehensive school after dark.
Where F is most successful is in its depiction of the daily threats some teachers can face in their jobs. It begins with a stark and unglamorous depiction of life in the classroom and the obstacle-filled path they must navigate on a daily basis. When he gives one of his male pupils an F, middle-aged English teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is assaulted in his own classroom. The moment is unflinching and shocking, but it’s what follows that is most disturbing; the procedures he must undergo to return to his role in the school, the distinct lack of support he gets, and the patronising attitude of his colleagues. While all of this exhibits a smidgeon of dark humour, it also seems to ring true. It’s insinuated that the teacher provoked the attack by awarding his student an F - for fail - instead of the more politically correct RS - resubmission. He’s also informed he’s lucky the pupil’s parents aren’t suing him or the school.
Once the stage is set and the school empties for the night, leaving only a small group of people inside – including security guards, cleaners, several teachers, the headmistress and a couple of pupils on detention – the narrative assumes the role of a typical slasher film, with each thinly drawn character picked off in increasingly violent ways by a group of hooded delinquents. By relegating the killers to the shadows/background/periphery of the frame, Roberts endows them with real menace. Some of the stalking scenes are expertly handled and a queasy tension is generated in many places. The emotional impact could have been considerably heightened though had the script actually worked to flesh out the various characters. With the exception of David Schofield’s put-upon teacher, the other characters are relegated to ‘types’ and aren’t given much to do except plead for their lives when cornered by the murderous hoodies, who are presented as almost supernaturally agile and strong. While F is pretty suspenseful in places, its adherence to slasher conventions deprives it of the power it initially looked set to wield. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good old fashioned slasher movie narrative (I loves a good slasher), but here it eventually jars with the attempts at social realism.
The way the school becomes a place of genuine menace is also well handled. Long dark corridors, ill lit offices and classrooms provide a suitably creepy backdrop for the ensuing frantic events. Eerie atmospherics aside, the film’s saving grace is without a doubt David Schofield, who plays his part with grim conviction, as the teacher on a downward spiral into despair, alcoholism and disciplinary procedures. Estranged from his family, his nerves have clearly suffered as a result of his assault, and as the odds are increasingly stacked against him, tension mounts as proceedings race towards an unexpected ending…