A school becomes the backdrop for gory Brit horror F, written and directed by Johannes Roberts. For Duncan, it’s a short, sharp shock to the system…
At the core of F is a central theme that will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever worked in contemporary education and, in a broader sense, anyone who’s ever been frustrated at work. So, that’s most of us, then.
F seems born from the out of frustrating political correctness that dominates our world with its ‘softly softly’ approach, an outlook backed up by endless litigation from those who sue when burnt by boiling hot water, even if they did spill it on themselves.
Here the film is based around a hard working teacher, Robert Anderson (played by David Schofield), whose life and self esteem are ruined after a violent incident involving a student, even though the act of violence is perpetrated against him.
The teaching board rules in favour of the student, reducing Anderson to a paranoid, self pitying, alcoholic wreck, who loses all passion for his vocation, as well as separating him from his wife and daughter.
It’s a clever plot device, as it’s impossible not to immediately side with Andersons’ plight, regardless of his condition, as management deal out their usual form of bureaucratic justice, more interested in covering their own behinds, than supporting their blameless staff.
Unfortunately for them, Anderson’s fears are about to be manifested after one random school day leads him to put his own (now rebellious) daughter in detention, while the school is besieged by a faceless force of hoodies.
The hoodies themselves are a fantastic force to be reckoned with, as their faces remain in shadow throughout. While possessing the agility and stealth of a Parkour runner, they seem to be hidden in every shadow, at times revealing themselves in a shot that looked previously free of threat.
There is an ethereal, almost supernatural quality to them as they stalk the school, committing silent acts of extreme violence, while being accompanied by an eerie score containing what sounded like distorted children’s voices.
It’s great to see a school environment being used to its full, creepy potential, a technique which will always remind me of certain scenes from A Nightmare On Elm Street, as it remains a surprisingly unused location.
F, however, has more in common with the vibe from early John Carpenter, and not just from director Johannes Roberts’ self proclaimed need to make a film similar to Assault On Precinct 13, but in utilizing the more restrained approach to violence than the likes of Halloween and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre employed.
Similarly to the latter two films, F‘s greatest asset is its restraint. It manages to make you think you’ve seen a lot more violence being perpetrated on screen that you actually have. For the school still has a few staff left on site, be they security, academic or support, for the hoodies to attack and maim, which they do with aplomb. Yet, the physical attacks are never really shown, leaving the bloody aftermaths to inflict maximum impact.
The fate of one character is actually so disgusting that it turned my hardened stomach, especially with my overactive imagination left to fill in the blanks.
While the film carefully and slowly punctuates itself with some horrific sights, it would be nothing without a sympathetic lead, which is where the genius casting of David Schofield comes into play. His name might not sound familiar at first, but a quick look at his face (or a trip to IMDb) will soon clear that up, as he’s been a stalwart of British television for decades, as well as appearing in films such as The Last Of The Mohicans, Pirates Of The Caribbean and, infamously, the dart player in An American Werewolf In London: “You made me miss.”
In F he is given the weight of the film to carry, which he does with a grizzled ease, revelling in every moment of his broken characters’ portrayal.
The supporting cast are all uniformly superb, with Inkheart‘s Eliza Bennett playing Anderson’s daughter in distress, Neil Marshall favourite, Emma Cleasby, in a small, but sweet role, Ruth Gemmell as the authoritatively bitchy headmistress, and a scene stealing Finlay Robertson (who readers may well recognise from the Geek favourite episode of Doctor Who, Blink), who plays a sleazy, cowardly security guard.
In fact, the strong casting makes for F‘sonly real shame, which is that, Anderson and his daughter aside, I would’ve like to have seen more development of some of the other characters. There were hints to Emma Cleasby’s role that she perhaps had some feelings towards Anderson, which never materialised.
I would’ve liked more exposition for Anderson’s wife (played by Juliet Aubrey) as to how their marriage and relationship with their daughter collapsed, as well as a slightly larger insight into ex-Hollyoaks actress, Roxanne McKee’s character. Still, they all have their part to play in the story, and it’s a rare criticism to actually ask for more dialogue in a horror film.
F acts as a short, sharp shock to the system, especially with a runtime of only seventy-nine minutes, giving it just enough time to set the scene before things take a turn for the worse. There is a pressing sense of urgency to it, as the horror unfolds in what feel like real time events, making it very likely that the film’s end will happen before you’ve even realised.
As I wrote earlier in the year about Centurion, there is a sense that British films can very much triumph through their sense of originality and independence, but in order for us to get more challenging, interesting and, above all, good films, we have to try and support them when we can, which isn’t always possible with the current, rapid cinematic turnaround. But try we must.
Several of the best films (for me) so far this year have been from home grown talent, so unless we actively get out to see films like F and Centurion, there’s every chance that we’ll get more Prince Of Persias clogging up our cinema screens instead. It might not be easy to find some films at every multiplex, but in F‘s case, it’s certainly worth the effort.
F is released on cinemas across the UK from 17th September.