June 25, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Oliver Milburn
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedic horror film “School’s Out Forever” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: In a post-apocalyptic world, a rebellious 15-year-old boy, who was expelled from an elite school for boys, hides out at the school with fellow students and a few school administrators, who all try to prevent an invasion from a powerful government official whose murderous teenage daughter they are holding captive.
Culture Audience: “School’s Out Forever” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching an often-sluggishly paced, post-apocalyptic horror movie that thinks it’s funnier and smarter than it really is.
Filled with plot holes and improbable action scenes, the comedic horror flick “School’s Out Forever” starts off with a fairly intriguing concept that it ends up ruining with formulaic shootouts and fights. It’s the type of movie where people pull out guns for an immediate attack or self-defense but instead just stand around talking for too long when their opponents could easily gun them down. It’s also a movie where the actors take inexplicably long pauses in between sentences. It makes you wonder if the humans in this post-apocalyptic world are the real zombies.
“School’s Out Forever” (written and directed by Oliver Milburn) is based on Scott K. Andrews’ 2012 novel of the same title. It’s part of a “School’s Out” trilogy of novels that many people describe as “Lord of the Flies” meets “The Hunger Games.” The “School’s Out Forever” movie is nowhere near the quality of any of the “Lord of the Flies” and “The Hunger Games” books and films. In fact, there are long stretches of the movie that look like dull, rejected scenes from a horror sitcom that no one wants to watch.
“School’s Out Forever” begins by showing main character Lee Keegan (played by Oscar Kennedy), a rebellious 15-year-old, playing a prank at the posh St. Mark’s School for Boys, where he is a student. The movie doesn’t name the city in England where the school is located, but the movie was actually filmed in London, Suffolk and Oxford. Lee and his best friend/fellow troublemaker Mac (played by Liam Lau Fernandez) have concocted a plan for Mac to place a set of school lockers on Lee, so that Lee can pretend that the lockers accidentally fell down on him in the school hallway.
After the lockers have been staged to look like they fell on Lee, he cries out in fake pain, while a teacher rushes out of a classroom to see what all the commotion is about and attends to him immediately, while other students watch. It’s not long before it’s clear that it was all a prank, since Lee has no injuries. He’s sent to the office of the school’s headmaster (played by Anthony Head), who promptly suspends Lee.
Lee tries to pretend that he has a valid claim for negligence, but the headmaster is unmoved and not falling for this obvious manipulation. He scolds Lee by saying, “You don’t give a toss about the lockers, Lee. You just like to cause trouble … We don’t indulge children. We make men. A scholarship here is rare, Lee. Very rare. You don’t realize how lucky you are. Hopefully, you will now.”
Just as the meeting is about to conclude, a teacher named Mr. Bates (played by Alex Macqueen) comes into the office with something that found in Lee’s knapsack: A plastic bag with a small amount of marijuana and a joint. Lee says sarcastically, “Who planted that?” Lee now goes from being suspended to being expelled.
The marijuana actually belongs to Mac. While Lee is waiting outside for Lee’s father to pick him up from school, Mac says goodbye and offers to tell the headmaster the truth about owning the marijuana that was found in Lee’s knapsack. Lee thanks Mac but declines the offer because Lee doesn’t think it will change school officials’ minds, and it will also get Mac in trouble too. Before they say their goodbyes, they salute each other, but Mac turns his salute into showing his middle finger.
When Lee’s father (played by Steve Oram), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, arrives to pick up Lee and drive them home, Lee apologizes to his father for getting expelled. His father tells Lee, “It’s not your fault.” It’s a major hint that Lee is someone who’s probably spoiled and has parents who want to blame other people for the problems that Lee causes.
Lee getting expelled from school will become the least of this family’s problems. While driving home from school, a news program on the radio mentions that there’s a pandemic going on and there’s considerable debate over the government closing the borders. Lee’s father turns off the radio because he doesn’t want to hear any bad news.
The movie then fast-forwards three weeks later. Lee is outside his home, where the streets look like an apocalypse recently happened. Lee is so numb from the disaster that when he takes out trash to put in a large pile that’s on his front lawn, he ignores the body of a dead, bloody woman who’s sprawled out on the house’s driveway.
What happened? Vague details are given in bits and pieces, but the pandemic apparently has caused an apocalypse where a viral disease turns people into humans that attack. They’re not human flesh-eaters like zombies, but the people who’ve gone crazy from this disease will kill for no reason. Other people with the disease that don’t go crazy eventually die a painful death where they rot away.
That’s what’s happened to Lee’s father. Lee gets a phone call from his mother (voiced by Connie Hyde), who is stuck somewhere giving medical help to those in need. She tells him that she’s figured out that people who whose blood type is Type O-negative are immune to this deadly disease. She and Lee both have this blood type.
Lee’s mother is very worried about Lee being stuck in the house with Lee’s dying father. She tells him that when Lee’s father inevitably dies, she will eventually meet up with Lee at St. Mark’s School for Boys. Lee doesn’t want to go back there, but she doesn’t know why. Apparently, she never found out that he was expelled.
But when Lee’s father dies, Lee changes his mind goes back to the school. He’s motivated to go there after an infected man invaded the home and tried to attack Lee. At the now-abandoned school, Lee finds about 16 to 18 other students, Mr. Bates and a school health administrator called Matron (played by Jasmine Blackboro), who is in her 20s. She saves Lee from being attacked by a wild German Shepherd that was roaming on school property.
Mr. Bates is trying to bring some normalcy to their situation, by lecturing the students on searching for food and telling them that non-perishable food should be given the highest priority. Lee’s expulsion from the school is no longer relevant, but he’s now back under the watchful eye of Mr. Bates. Neither of them is happy about it. Mr. Bates tells the students about the students being at the school: “You may not feel it now, but this place is still giving you a head start.”
There’s one bright spot for Lee: His best friend Mac is among the orphaned students who have taken shelter in the school. Mr. Bates has made Mac his second in command of his team. It’s a decision that he will soon regret, as Mac becomes very power-hungry and destructive in ways that won’t be revealed in this review.
During one of Mr. Bates’ lectures, a fellow teacher named Mr. Hammond (played by Richard Elfyn) and a boy named Rowles (played by Harry Tuffin), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, burst into the room in a panic. Mr. Hammond and Rowles beg to be hidden because they say that someone is out to kill them. They both hide themselves in a closet in the room.
Shortly after that, Mr. Bates and the students find out who’s after Mr. Hammond and Rowles: a vengeful teenager named Claire Baker (played by Freya Parks), who’s accompanied by a man in his 30s named John Smith (played by Gordon Alexander). They both have rifles with them. Claire announces that she and John Smith are looking for two thieves.
She adds, “I represent Warren Town and the authority of Georgina Baker, former magistrate and mayor of Warren Parish Council.” When Mr. Baker tells her that they don’t know about any thieves, trigger-happy Claire doesn’t believe him. Claire correctly assumes that the people she’s looking for are hiding in the closet, so she and John begin shooting the closet.
What follows is a battle where John dies, Claire is held captive, and her mother Georgina (played by Samantha Bond) comes looking for her with some armed and dangerous people from Warren Parish Council. It’s explained in the movie how and why Claire zeroed in on the school in the search for her missing daughter. St. Mark’s School for Boys has a very large gate that can keep outsiders away, but the gate has openings that make it easy for people see inside and shoot guns through it.
The rest of “School’s Out Forever” is a meandering slog that shows what happens during this standoff. Mr. Bates, Mac and Lee do the most interacting with Georgina. They adamantly deny that Georgina’s daughter Claire is on the property. However, Georgina doesn’t really believe them because they won’t let her on the property to do a search.
Georgina, her loyal henchman Stanley (played by Ben Dilloway) and the rest of her posse refuse to leave and remain stationed outside the school gate. Georgina won’t let anyone behind the school gates leave until she gets what she wants. The resulting standoff is montonously stretched out with repetitive back-and-forth talks between both sides that end in stalemates.
At some point in the movie, Georgina doesn’t become the only antagonist for Lee and the other people at the school. Mac eventually does some despicable things that make him a threat to people’s safety. Lee then has to decide who’s worse: Georgina or Mac? The ultimate showdown and results are neither surprising nor suspenseful.
“School’s Out Forever” is not a completely horrible movie. It’s just disappointing how dull it is when the concept begged for better action sequences, improved dialogue and more exciting pacing. Because so much of the story takes place in the protective environment of the school, the dangers of the apocalypse and the pandemic take a back seat to a very run-of-the-mill hostage story.
There are also plot holes that can’t be ignored. In his phone call with his mother, Lee never bothers to ask her the address of where she is. And it’s never explained why he didn’t try to call her back. It’s also never explained how all those people hiding out in the school never got infected, when the students were sent out to look for food.
There’s at least one occasion during a food scavenger hunt where Mac encounters an infected person, but there’s no mention of Mac having the blood type that would give Mac immunity. It’s also never made very clear how people get infected, so the movie never explains what people are doing to protect themselves from getting infected. There are brief glimpses of a few people on the outside wearing masks, but almost all the people in this movie aren’t wearing masks during this pandemic. And there are scenes where the students are neatly dressed in their school uniforms, as if they’re not in the middle of an apocalypse where they have to fight for their lives.
It’s clear that the filmmakers were more concerned with staging violent scenes than thinking through many of the details that would’ve made this a more suspenseful and believable movie. The acting in the film isn’t terrible, but it isn’t remarkable either. Macqueen’s portrayal of Mr. Bates is the performance that has the best comedic timing, although that’s not saying much when the comedy fizzles out by the last 15 minutes, and the movie that just becomes a violent free-for-all. There’s a good concept that was waiting to be creatively expressed in “School’s Out Forever,” but that concept ended up just like the classes in St. Mark’s School for Boys after the apocalypse—abandoned and permanently dismissed.
Central City Media released “School’s Out Forever” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on February 15, 2021.