They say “blood is thicker than water”. In the case of School’s Out Forever it’s all about Type-O Negative blood. It’s not explained how the pandemic starts, but a new influenza strain has been unleashed on humanity. Only this time it’s 100% fatal, highly transmissible, and there is no cure. But anyone with Type-O Negative blood is immune. The result is a disease that wipes out 95% of the world’s population. To put that in context, that puts the post-pandemic population of the UK at 3.3 million, or the size of a third of London or the combined populations of the next 5 largest cities in the UK. It’s no surprise then that faced with the end of the world 15 year old Lee is told to go back to school where he’ll be safe. The only problem being that he’s just been expelled.
I may be being a little unfair, but in a world where armchair enthusiasts have all become overnight experts in epidemiology it’s hard not to spot the flaws in the story. A good horror relies on one of two things, either it’s absurd enough that you are forced to suspend disbelief, or it’s real enough that you can believe everything you see could happen. Unfortunately, in a world where everyone knows about R numbers, social distancing, and lockdowns, it means the setup for the story falls between the cracks of the two. There’s a brief mention of locking down borders at the start of the film, but everything happens too fast and we are expected to believe that 95 percent of the country has succumbed to the virus within just a few short weeks. Thankfully the rest of the film plays out as a human interaction story, and one that becomes all too believable.
The film is based around the stand-off between the school and the leader of the local parish council. As anyone who has dealt with councils will tell you there is nothing quite as officious as a local councillor. Samantha Bond is wonderfully over the top, at one point threatening to wear Lee’s skin as a onesie. We’ve all considered the local council to be full of budding Napoleans and the film plays on this really well as they go about creating their own little kingdom in the heart of the countryside, teaming up with some of the surviving military to control the surrounding area with an iron rod. Or at the very least a lead bullet. I’m not sure our local parish council would go quite so gung-ho, but as a metaphor for how tribal people can become under stress it works well.
One of the most believable aspects of the film though has to be the school. From the grounds to the corridors, and the wood paneling in the classrooms, it exudes Private School atmosphere. St Mark’s is a school for prospective cabinet ministers and army children. It may come as a surprise but many of the private schools in England have scholarship programs for serving military personnel, so the fact that an outcast like Lee is attending St Mark’s rings true. What appears to be missing is the wide range of sports often accessible to private schools, especially ones affiliated with the army. From shooting clubs to archery, there’s more to private schools than cricket. So it comes as a surprise that the only weapon that surviving teacher Mr Bates can lay his hands on is a solitary cricket bat. That said, the school is a lot smaller than many so it may not have enough pupils to keep a cadet force on its own, which would explain the lack of firearms, if not the lack of archery. At least the athletics cupboard still has javelins. The dormitories also seem overcrowded given that most of the school’s pupils are no longer there. It’s not that far fetched that there are still children there though given the international nature of many schools.
With a distinct lack of adult supervision, it’s not long before the children start treating the apocalypse like a video game. But it’s hard to blame them when the adults themselves are so unlikeable. There’s a particularly satisfying scene where we see just how far someone is willing to go in order to stay alive. Remember that all the survivors have type-o negative blood, which means everyone still alive is a universal blood donor. Morals are left behind and it’s children versus adults in a blood soaked fight for survival. What you get is a cross between Lord of the Flies and 28 Days Later. But without the zombies. There are flashes of inspiration throughout, such as the realisation that many of the houses in the area will have stockpiled food that will no longer be available in the regular shops, and that the most easily accessible weapons will be found on farms. But there’s also much missing. With a cast of mainly young actors most seem quite happy to forget that they have just lost their friends and families to disease. Some of the plot comes across as accidental and dumb, but then that’s really a reflection of real life. While the film is meant to be a horror comedy it never quite touches on the human emotion of grief, one of several areas that could be better explored. It could be a better film, but for Rebellion Film’s first feature length production they do an admirable job none the less. It’s a veritable bloodfest and keeps the gore flowing which is to be expected given the film’s creator.
School’s Out Forever is out now on streaming services to rent, and to buy from April 12th.