Frightfest 2010: F Review

Johannes Roberts' F is a masterful, fresh take on the sub-genre of 'hoodie horror', featuring be-hooded kids laying siege to a school after hours. It's not the first British film to demonise today's youth, with the likes of Eden Lake and Harry Brown taking square aim at the disenfranchised kids of the 21st Century. But it does put a unique spin on matters by supposing the kids as an abstract evil rather than just a jeering nuisance.

Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is a teacher who's left hopeless, alcoholic and estranged from his wife and daughter after a pupil attacks him during class for giving them an "F" grade. Frustrated with a school system that wouldn't support him, he's at risk of losing his job and commands virtually no control over his rowdy classroom. In a bid to regain some pride he finds himself holding detention with his own daughter, Kate (Eliza Bennett). Tensions come to a head and an argument sends Kate running for the exit... Searching for his daughter, Robert slowly realises the school is under attack from a hooded enemy and, despite his fragile state, it's not just paranoia at work.

Roberts has claimed this as a "remake of Assault on Precinct 13", but that really does it a disservice. Whilst there are nods to Carpenter right from a title sequence that proclaims "Johannes Roberts' F" in auteur-like fashion, the film has a whole raft of its own ideas and a highly distinctive atmosphere. Whereas other flicks of this sort show their foes in the full light of day and provide a very human face behind the crimes, F makes an inspired move to show the hoodies as faceless, almost demonic, figures with only black voids where their faces should be. This is very much fear of 'the young' as an entity, rather than specific individuals who can be conveniently locked away. They make little sound either and move with great dexterity around the school, a cross between monkeys and creepy free-runners from hell. Often appearing from above, they jump down behind their victims in a manner that recalls Aliens, lending the movie both an utterly original look and a truly horrible, nightmarish quality.

 David Schofield is superb, in a rare and welcome lead role, and Roberts' camera makes the most of his grizzled, stress ravaged face, the camera lingering on his trauma in close-up. Both frustrating and tragic, it's refreshing to see such an emotionally complex and conflicted character at the centre of a genre piece like this. Elsewhere the supporting cast are also strong - in particular Eliza Bennett putting in a convincing turn as his troubled daughter, and Finlay Robertson providing some light relief as a sceptical and ineffective security guard.

Where the director does wisely follow Carpenter's work is in knowing when to hold back and when to go for all out bloody terror. Slowly building tension with largely unseen violence, it's mostly the (gruesome) aftermath that shocks. Empty school corridors and deserted class rooms are as frightening as the hoodies who may be lurking in the shadows. One of the most memorable scenes simply features an unmanned floor polisher bumping around the canteen, with implication trumping spectacle.

A resounding triumph, F builds on its premise expertly and maintains the pace throughout, culminating in an appalling emotional dilemna that encapsulates why it's a cut above and why Johannes Roberts is one to watch in the future.
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