The School (2018)

Amy’s son David is in a coma since an accident in which he almost died. She never leaves his side, as she works as a doctor in the same hospital where David is submitted to. While watching over him, she starts to experience visions of a strange, haunted building inhabited by frightened children. As her desperation grows to save David, the visions intensify, Soon she gets completely drawn into the otherworldly place, where she must face its dangers, but also seeks to help its suffering inhabitants.

The School is the first full-length movie written and directed by Storm Ashwood, who garnered plenty of experience in the movie industry as a gaffer in about 50 productions, and also directed several short movies before shooting The School. The School does not reinvent the wheel for horror movies, that much is clear from the outset. But for a directorial debut, it is a more than decent affair.

When watching the trailer I thought I would be in for a fairly straight horror movie. There are some horror elements, but nothing is too extreme or shocking. As the movie evolves, the scares actually take a backseat, and the interpersonal drama elements come to the fore. The plot is not really coherent, as the characters are mostly staggering from one troublesome scene into another. As the whole movie has a dream-like feel to it, these somewhat disjointed elements are not really bothersome, however.

And while the plot is not a strength of the movie, it makes more than up for it by its haunting and melancholic atmosphere. As Amy steps into this new dangerous world that is home to its scared inhabitants, we witness plenty of frightening moments, but also compassion and hope. It’s certainly an emotional and drama-laden story, but nothing is overdone. While watching The School, I felt occasionally reminded of Walter Salles Dark Water, which is one of the few movies that managed to tell an empathetic drama while integrating horror elements into the story to magnify its intensity. The School is not quite able to integrate these aspects so seamlessly and focused as Salles did with Dark Water, but it certainly has a similar vibe.

The movie tells a simple story, but it does so with great verve, atmospheric visuals, and convincing performances by all actors, especially the children. The overall production is very professional, cinematography and editing leave nothing to be desired. The lower budget is not really a problem for dialogue-driven movies such as The School, as special effects and large sets are not required.

The School is a compelling dark fairy tale that shows great empathy for its characters. With a slow, but steadily unfolding story, it delivers old-school storytelling in the best sense.