It's got to be every teacher's nightmare – what if the kids suddenly turn on you? Well, this clever twist on John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 answers that question in spades.
English teacher Robert Anderson (Schofield) is attacked in class one day by a pupil after he hands out a grade of F on an assignment. Returning to work year later, he's a broken man - estranged from both his wife and daughter (who also attends the school), a nervous wreck and hitting the bottle pretty hard - he's lost all confidence, and can barely control his class. And he's dealt an added blow when the school's board won't back his lawsuit for fear of a scandal. One evening, while he's his daughter Kate (Bennett) in detention, the school comes under attack from a gang of hooded youths, and the Andersons have to fight for their survival ...
This film sits well in that new and growing British sub-genre, the "hoodie horror" – see Eden Lake, Harry Brown and Cherry Tree Lane for other examples. But what Roberts has crafted here is a very sharp, well-structured thriller. The set-up is neat, and the horror taking place in the school corridors at night reminded me a lot of the terrific (and under-rated) Mark Lester film Class of 1984. In F, we never learn who the hooded maniacs are, but we do know that they are not afraid to kill. To get inside the school, they first trap a security guard inside a bin, then set him alight. Yes, they're playing for keeps. Once inside they move about almost as though they are wraiths – jumping, gliding and free-running, their faces hidden in the shadows. They represent the hidden face of "youth" that so much of middle-England (hello, Daily Mail readers) today are afraid of. We never learn their motives, either, but we can hazard a guess. They quietly work their way around the school, gruesomely dealing with any late-staying teachers and pupils they come across. So it's time for Anderson to man up and save himself and his daughter from these thugs.
F's greatest strength is the lead performance from Schofield, who plays a man who has to run the gamut of emotions; from a normal, quiet English teacher to a frazzled, broken alcoholic to a father fighting to save his daughter. Schofield has always been a class act, and this film really lets his talent shine. Also first rate is Bennett as his daughter, giving a watchable and very believable performance as the terrified teen. F does leave a couple of plot points hanging, but I can asure you that this is a film that will linger in the mind long after the credits roll. It's a sure-handed effort from Roberts, and in my book, F is definitely worth an A.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with writer/director Roberts and co-producer Ernest Riera; a pretty thorough making-of featurette (28:42); and an interview with actress Roxanne McKee (5:19).