School’s Out Forever is available to rent or buy.
“I Celebrated My fifteenth birthday by burying my headmaster and emptying my bladder on freshly turned earth. Best present a boy could have.” – Scott K Andrews (The Afterblight Chronicles)
Anyone expecting Oliver Milburn’s adaptation of Scott K Andrews’ books to be similar in style to Slaughterhouse Rulz will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the dry wit and horror on display in Milburn’s feature directorial debut School’s Out Forever. Unfortunately, like so many movies during 2020 and 2021, School’s Out Forever quietly slipped onto streaming services with little fanfare, and as a result, many will have missed this sparkling British gem that dovetails pandemic comedy/horror with a cutting commentary on BREXIT.
Fifteen-year-old Lee (Oscar Kennedy) is a scholarship student at St Mark’s School for Boys, but his place in the school is constantly threatened by the stuck-up headmaster (Anthony Head), who is keen to expel him as soon as possible. Unfortunately, for Lee, a corridor prank is all the ammunition the headmaster needs. Lee is instructed to leave the school grounds immediately, with his dad collecting him from the gates. However, as Lee sits silently in the car with his dad, his attention turns to the radio, where news of a deadly new flu haunts the airwaves.
As the days turn into weeks, the virus everyone thought was just a sniffle becomes a deadly pandemic, and the country collapses into turmoil. With the silent killer slowly encircling Lee’s home, his only hope for safety is a journey back to St Mark’s, where a small group of survivors sit waiting for help, including his best mate Mac (Liam Lau-Fernandez), Pugh (Sebastian Croft) and the school nurse (Jasmine Blackborow). However, as Lee is welcomed back, a new danger lurks in the shadows; a troupe of marauding and febrile nationalists, otherwise known as The Parish Council. As the students band together, Lee becomes an unwitting leader, but can he keep the school and its inhabitants safe from the oncoming storm?
While Milburn’s film was advertised as a comedy, at its core, it’s an accomplished apocalyptic horror with deep themes of nationalism, power, class and political corruption that may take some viewers by surprise. Milburn’s ability to play with audience expectations is impressive, as isolation and external threats twist the internal relationships of the trapped teens. Here School’s Out Forever feels like a pandemic adaptation of Lord of the Flies, and as a result, it carries some genuine shocks that transcend the young adult horror at its heart.
School’s Out Forever is a surprisingly bold, dark and engaging story that is only further strengthened by the performances of a truly brilliant cast. But it is the eerie echoes of the COVID-19 outbreak that consumed our world just after its filming was complete that make this British gem stand out, so much so that one wonders if Milburn had a crystal ball. The final scenes tease more to come, but alas, there is no sign of Lee’s character returning to our screens soon, which is a pity.