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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 08.31.10] United Kingdom horror



Year: 2010
Directors: Johannes Roberts
Writers: Johannes Roberts
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 6 out of 10

Described by director Johannes Roberts as “a remake of Assault on Precinct 13” set in the very real world of the comprehensive school system, F is a film that promised to marry horror and social realism in true British style. A shame then that it never lifts itself from mediocrity, victim of an over reliance on horror clichés and a failure to engage with its own themes.

David Schofield plays Robert Anderson, an alcoholic schoolteacher returning to work from an extended absence after being assaulted by one of his pupils. He is informed that the school won't be pressing charges against the pupil because of the possibility of counter action, while also being reprimanded for giving him a low mark – the “F” of the title - and damaging his self esteem, counter to school policy.

This brings two modern British media panics into the film's set-up: out-of-control schoolchildren perpetrating violence against teachers, and the ongoing controversy over marking systems and exams becoming too easy, often presented as the result of an over-liberal attitude to education. These are quite complex themes that straddle a line between the interpretation of very real data and media bias, to be treated with delicacy and balance. Unfortunately F is rather reactionary in its presentation, Anderson an anti-hero beaten by an unfair system, good despite his flaws.



F's main storyline reinforces this stance. As the school empties for the evening a group of nameless, faceless children in hoodies and black balaclavas descend, clambering around on PE apparatus in a statedly sub-human manner while they hunt down the school's staff. A lack of context for for this apart from the earlier reiteration of media scares marks a one-dimensional approach to the issue. As time goes on and the initial politics are forgotten, you realise F isn't a film trying to make a statement, just trying to find a workable set-up for an exploitation storyline, clumsily blundering into politics in the process. This doesn't really excuse the message it puts across though, just shows a lack of awareness on the director's part.

This approach is common in exploitation cinema and often forgiven if the rest of the film gives enough thrills, but F's storyline is much too slight, offering little more than a simple game of hide and seek as Mr Anderson and a dwindling cast of incidental characters avoid their nameless pursuers. Unremarkable violence and a curious lack of tension contribute to a very familiar experience. A clichéd score of hoarsely whispered nursery rhyme-style music is pretty embarrassing, hinting that F's creators are unfamiliar with the modern sophistications of the genre.

Nevertheless F is actually quite watchable, in the most part down to believable dialogue and a cast of experienced actors, David Schofield being particularly good in the central role. The direction is competent if a little bland, and a professional slickness prevails despite the low budget. But F fails to be either the social commentary or exploitation horror films it wants to be, falling short of being anything but a nod to either, a forgettable film that could have done so much more with its subject matter.


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