Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Teacher Shortage (2020) - Horror Film Review

Before I start this review of Teacher Shortage I have to state something for the sake of transparency. I contributed to the Kickstarter that was raising funds for the creation of this, I even appear in the credits here under the 'Special Thanks' due to my contribution to the campaign. Another aspect is that while I don't know the director/writer Troy Escamilla (Party Night, Mrs. Claus) I am part of the Fright Meter Awards committee that he is in charge of. I decided this time around that unlike the other two films of Troy's I have reviewed I would actually give a score at the end of this one. I intend to be completely truthful in my assessment of Teacher Shortage, so as part of that truth felt I should lay those details out first.

The English Department of Prescott High School have arranged to meet at the house of one of the teachers in order to carry out an annual 'professional development session' which in actuality is more of an excuse to get together and drink. However the day they have decided to do this is also the day that a masked killer has appeared, and who seems to have quite the grudge against the teachers of Prescott High. Could this possibly be linked to the suicide of a bullied girl at the High School some years back?

I stated in my review of Mrs. Claus that it felt like Escamilla was developing as a director, but this latest effort blows both his previous films out of the water. I was surprised by just how darn enjoyable this slasher was. There are still moments that show the indie roots, but on the whole I was impressed with Teacher Shortage. In terms of the plot I did feel that the prologue of this was extremely similar to the prologue of Mrs. Claus, both featuring a bullied girl killing herself. But past that point, outside of the obvious similarities of these both being slashers these films went down different paths. Both the previous films featured young adults in the starring roles, here the age range has increased so that you get a bunch of older adults who on the whole I found to be enjoyable characters. It was nice to see Brinke Stevens (Slumber Party Massacre), Kaylee Williams, and Mel Heflin coming back from Mrs. Claus, carrying on the tradition of Escamilla using actors he has worked with before, while the new cast members were also mostly enjoyable. Highlights being Roger Conners (Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride) as the school principal, and the womaniser character that Michael Tula expertly plays.

Teacher Shortage has more of the director in it than previous films it felt like, mainly in that he is a teacher in his day job, so I imagine he must have used his experience there to make what characters talk about more realistic. Also this is the first of his films to feature a gay couple, and who share a couple of on-screen kisses, in fact they are the only couple shown in the whole film. That is, outside of Williams character talking about her fiancé, and the husband of another character very briefly shown. The plot by necessity is barebones, that was fine and to be expected, but I did feel the motivation of the killer was rather underwhelming. Scenes for the most part have much better flow to them, and feature more satisfying editing. Outside of the one awkward scene where characters are talking to each other with far too many silent pauses, the dialogue for this film felt like it flowed along more naturally than before. One very cool part of Teacher Shortage is the easter eggs that point to this taking place in the same cinematic universe as Party Night and Mrs. Claus. Being a fan of the previous films of Escamilla these were a delightful inclusion. For anyone watching this be aware there is quite a long mid credits sequence, as well as an after credits zinger so it is well worth sticking around for those.

Being a slasher there are many kills, and they do ramp up in regularity, but they are nicely spaced so is always a new one to look forward to. In general the editing has improved, I mentioned in my review of Mrs. Claus that some of the kills came off as a bit stilted, but here with some fast paced editing these kills are more fluid, my only complaint being they are all over so quickly, but that's just the sadist in me wanting to see horror film victims really suffer! Despite that they are satisfying and nearly every one features a different weapon, such as a knife through the chest, an axe to the face, and one that resulted in a characters eyeball falling out their socket. What makes the kills very special is the great decision to have the scenes in which the killer appears become bathed in red light. I loved this happening, sure in a logical sense the sudden light makes no sense, but it is a stylistic decision and not meant to represent reality. Whenever a scene turned red a grin never failed to appear on my face, coupled with the sublime score by Guthrie Lowe that channeled the very best of Goblin. These sequences were the highlight of a fun movie. The music throughout is amazing, I'm a huge fan of the sound of Goblin and so to have a film taking its musical inspirations from that group was a nice surprise. The sound design in general is a lot better here, there are a few noticeable scenes where background interference occurs, notably in the ones set at the school near the start of the movie, but mostly this all sounds fine.

I liked both Party Night and Mrs. Claus, they are fun movies, but Teacher Shortage is the first film by the director that I would say I loved. The soundtrack is killer, the kill scenes look wonderful, and even with the slight rough moments this was a blast to watch from start to finish.


No comments: