Thursday, June 17, 2021

School’s Out Forever

Initially, there was speculation type-O blood might be resistant to Covid-19, but subsequent studies say it isn’t so. However, type O-negative can take heart from their exclusive immunity in Scott K. Andrews’ Afterblight Chronicles YA trilogy. Yes, that’s a right, it’s an apocalyptic epidemic. Doesn’t that sound fun for a change? Sadly, the vibe is not nearly as snarky as the key art suggests. Instead, the end-of-the-world is rather glum business in Oliver Milburn’s School’s Out Forever (based on book #1), which releases in theaters and on VOD tomorrow.

The bad news is a mystery virus is about to wipe out ninety percent of the world population. The good news is Lee Keegan will not have to tell his dad he has been expelled from his elite boarding school. Unfortunately, his mother (a microbiologist working at some kind of secure facility) insists he return to the presumed safety of St. Marks. Since that is where she will come looking for him, that is where he reluctantly goes.

There, he finds his hot-tempered trouble-making mate Sean “Mac” MacKillick is largely running the school, despite the more reasonable advice of Mr. Bates, the last surviving teacher, and the nurse-matron, who is only a few years older than her students. A combination of fear and loose discipline also brings the kids into conflict with a local militia group.

Instead of wise-cracking his way through the resulting chaos, Keegan worries and pouts, which might be more realistic, but is far less entertaining. In fact, the film gets rather dour and downbeat. We have all seen plenty of serious-as-a-heart-attack end-of-the-world viral outbreaks on-screen, going back to the original
The Stand, if not before. Frankly, at a time like this, we need to laugh at Armageddon, but Milburn’s adaptation only offers a handful of darkly comedic chuckles here and there.

Oscar Kennedy is passable as Keegan, but it is hard to imagine him anchoring an entire trilogy. Liam Lau Fernandez is more memorable going the full
Lord of the Flies as Mac, the borderline-psychotic. Yet, it is weirdly the adults who make more of an impression, most notably Alex Macqueen as cautious but decent Mr. Bates. Sadly, though, Steve Oram is miserably under-employed as Keegan’s soon-to-expire dad.

Perhaps the greatest irony of
School’s Out Forever (aside from the absence of Alice Cooper on the soundtrack) is how the intended-to-be-scary speech of the militia leader (maybe played too well by Samantha Bond) sounds like a pretty on-point critique of social decay. It is a competent film, but it really should have been much more fun. Just sort of whatever, School’s Out Forever releases tomorrow (6/18) in theaters and on VOD.