LIFF REVIEW – School’s Out is an eccentric and intriguing take on the thriller genre that borrows from the old and creates something new

Slightly more sinister than Alice Cooper’s song of the same name, School’s Out (L’heure de la sortie) is the second feature-length film from French director and writer Sébastien Marnier.

After a Year 10 teacher jumps from a classroom window in an inexplicable suicide attempt, his perturbed class of intellectually gifted students is taken over by new substitute teacher Pierre Hoffman (Laurent Lafitte). Although at first they come across as arrogant know-it-alls overbearingly obsessed with their curriculum, six of the students soon start exhibiting strange, cult-like behaviour. Pierre witnesses their behaviour both in and out of school and becomes more and more concerned that they’re plotting something dangerous. The other teachers, however, pass it off as normal, and it isn’t until the graduation party that the group’s true intentions come to light.

With a narrative this unique, the use of simple cinematography and editing serves the film well, keeping it relatively uncluttered in spite of a few arbitrary plot points. The film’s originality also lets it get away with relying on classic thriller tropes: answering the phone but no one’s on the other end; our protagonist has a nightmare – cue the smash cut! Despite how tried and tested these may seem, they still build suspense effectively and leave you feeling genuinely terrified of a bunch of teenagers. The most memorable performance comes from young Luàna Bajrami who plays Apolline, a Year 10 class representative whom the teachers treat as if she were a member of staff. Her stoic expression and piercing gaze rarely falter; she’s as disturbing as she is disturbed. The uncanny energy that emanates from Apolline and her classmates is amplified by the electronic buzz that dominates the sound design, creating vibrations so dense that they’re almost claustrophobia-inducing.

While the film’s humour does provide some comic relief from its more intense moments, it feels unnecessary at times. Some jokes come across as crude and lazily-written, and the excess of humour slightly cheapens what is otherwise an impactful piece.

Marnier is relatively new to the directing game, but it certainly doesn’t show; School’s Out is a confident, smart thriller with an unsettling story that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

 

by Holly Weaver

Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.

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