Education goes to hell in The Lesson, a film from director Ruth Platt that sets up an intriguing premise, but ultimately never really manages to expand on it in any significant way. Telling the story of a teacher who kidnaps two unruly students and subjects them to an intensely violent “lesson” with a difference, what seems to take root in gritty British social realism never manages to convincingly change gears, leaving the film’s venture into darker terrain feeling hollow and ultimately a little futile.
The Lesson functions most successfully in its first third: we initially meet Fin (Evan Bendall), a troubled schoolboy not without his share of difficulties. Stuck in a fairly hostile living situation with his brother and his girlfriend, we see snapshots of his fractured home life interspersed with his socialising, which seems to mostly be comprised of making trouble and acting out with a small group of friends. In an early scene, we also see school teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands) attempt to maintain a level head in front of an out-of-control class, and it’s evident from this scene alone that he isn’t far from the edge. Soon after, Fin and his friend are knocked out and kidnapped by Mr Gale, and wake up in a secluded underground “classroom” where he plans to make sure they finally learn something – at any cost.
For the film, it’s around this time that things start to go south. Some of Mr Gale’s more colourful moments of rage veer unfortunately into the realm of unintentional comedy, with Hands’ borderline hysterics occasionally feeling a little silly. There’s also an issue of the film becoming punishingly repetitive: Their captor’s propensity for over-emphasised teacher-speak – see his threatening to assert himself using an “iron (adjective) hammer (noun)” – quickly moves from an entertaining quirk to blandly irritating, while his near constant threatening to nail Fin’s hand to the table if he doesn’t look words up quickly enough in the dictionary is overused to a frankly remarkable point of saturation – particularly since it continues into near perpetuity after he actually does it before the film’s halfway point. You know what they say about nailing people’s hands to tables: if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.
Elsewhere, scenes at home following Fin’s brother after the kidnapping bring little to the table and feel a little like padding, and ultimately The Lesson feels like an idea that would be more sustainable as a short. At feature length, this feels seriously overstretched, with its good ideas pushed to breaking point.