FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Lesson of the Evil

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here. Spoilers!

Based on the novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi, Takashi Miike's Lesson of the Evil takes place at an elite Japanese high school where discipline is a rarity for both the teachers and the students. In the middle of it all is charismatic English teacher, Hasumi (Hideaki Ito), who is popular with the young female students, revered by the male students and impresses his fellow teaching staff. However, beneath the cleancut exterior lies the beating heart of a sadistic killer. Warning bells ring when he begins an affair with a student who had previously been sexually assaulted by a PE teacher as well as blackmailing another teacher having an affair with a male student. Hasumi's not a nice guy, no matter how much the film seems to want us to support him.

Excess is what you expect when it comes to the filmography of Takashi Miike, a director not known for either subtlety or restraint. Lesson of the Evil doesn't buck the trend at all, layering on repetitive and graphic murders to a jazzy soundtrack consisting solely of different versions of Mack the Knife. It's a neat joke at first; Mack the Knife is of course a famous song about a serial killer and is taken from by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill (it is this, the German version, that plays first), but the final whistling version of it, you're about ready to find a copy of the CD just to throw it out the window or stamp on it a bit. The joke wears thin, an apt metaphor for the film itself.

It's hard not to compare it to the Miike film I watched earlier in the month, Audition, because everything that worked so well in that repeats itself in Lesson of the Evil, but with far less elegance. The idea of a person with an innate capacity for extreme violence existing in plain sight is such a good one, one which roots itself deep within the fear that we can never know what another person is thinking. The beauty of Audition is that doubt wasn't confirmed until right towards the end of the film, the violence that it resulted in compounded in to about twenty minutes of near-unbearable intensity. Also, the pacing was exquisite, building the atmosphere slowly until the finale's big release.

Lesson of the Evil, in contrast, makes the audience feel every second of the runtime, operating at such a languid pace at times that it feels as if the narrative will just peter out rather than build to anything. Of course, what it does build to is like the constant use of Mack the Knife, excessive and repetitive to the point of meaningless by the end. Hasumi is also the only character who is really allowed to present himself to the audience either. The students themselves, the victims of the situation, are barely given time to register outside a couple of scenes and as such, the impact of that shooting at the end is lessened before it even happens.

I don't expect horror films to be anything other than disturbing or unsettling because that's their place in film, to take our nightmares, render them semi-real and provide an outlet for them that ends when the credits roll. Sometimes though, the crossover between reality and a horror movie can be too on the nose. Given the sheer, horrifying amount of campus shootings that have taken place in recent years, Lesson of the Evil is just too on the nose to feel anything but distasteful. It doesn't help that the charismatic performance from Ito is designed to make you half-root for Hasumi as he's going round, gunning down hysterical teenagers. There's a little too much glee taken in these actions here. 

Overwrought and by the numbers, Lesson of the Evil is the first film of the month that I've found myself actively not enjoying. Well, it had to happen eventually. It cuts a little too keenly at times to work whilst at others, it was simply too dull. With a director as prolific as Miike, there's bound to be a few bumps in the road.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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