Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is on the ropes. A teacher in a rough North London Secondary School, Robert is cruelly head-butted in his own classroom by a typical thug who’s just been graded with an ‘F’. Jump eleven months on (Why eleven?, we ask. Why not…), and unsurprisingly, Robert is a whisky-soaked shell of his former self. Newspaper cuttings of his classroom attack litter his bedroom. He’s lost his edge in the classroom, seen his marriage fall apart, and found his relationship with daughter Kate (Eliza Bennett) slip from a happy father-daughter state to one of teacher-pupil. To add insult to nasal-injury, the school aren’t to press charges on the little ruffian – nor even expel him – but rather are attempting to dodge the legal action the child’s parents are threatening; national guidelines dictate that teachers cannot ‘Fail’ their pupils.
So far, so gritty-urban-drama good, but this is no Grange Hill. As night falls on another miserable day for Robert, dark things come out to play in the shadows. Robert holds Kate behind after school for damaging a school text book, and after an awkwardly staged confrontation between the two, Robert slaps his only child in a desperate rage. Storming off to phone her mother, Kate discovers the phone lines have been cut. And someone’s outside. Or rather, some people. Hooded youths. With knives. Cue bumbling security guards, screaming teachers and kids with a seriously bad attitude toward comprehensive education.
Whilst David’s Schofield’s performance as a ‘teacher on the edge’ finds some moments of genuine quality, the vast majority of this slasher-horror is so achingly clichéd that no matter how hard any of the actors try to encapsulate ‘desperate-trouser-wetting-terror’ (and try they do, with varying levels of conviction), you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it all before. There’s even a tried and tested sequence of a girl hiding in a row of toilet cubicals with a villain searching them one by one. There’s an unfortunate moment of parallel with ‘that’ Youtube clip of a woman putting a cat in a bin, except instead of a cat, it’s a security guard, and instead of a woman, it’s a psychopathic pyromaniac hoodie…
That said, F does offer the occasional gem of enjoyment. So many aspects of the film are brilliantly finished; the score of an eerie nursery rhyme culminates in moments of real tension. The school-girl-in-short-skirt could have been a wonderfully tragic heroine. The setting of empty school classrooms and corridors at night is possibly one of the more perfect settings any horror film could have happened upon. Top of the class though is easily the gore sequences, which are far from overplayed and brilliantly toe curling. It also manages to throw in the occasional humour without transforming the genuine horror into a poor parody; there’s a wonderful exchange between Robert and an irksome security guard: “I think there are kids inside the building!”, “It is a school…”
For me, the best way of summarising F is alluding to its classroom setting; it’s a C at best. In the words of so many parent evenings, it shows potential, but if it could just try that little bit harder it could have been a thoroughly deserving teacher’s pet. As it stands, it feels like the characters are only there to be hacked to pieces, and the ‘fright’ sequences fall just short of being truly terrifying. It’s certainly worth a watch, but it won’t leave you quivering in fear of hooded thugs any time soon. Unless you read the Daily Mail…