The School’s out
Written by Matthew Eeles
Filming has wrapped on The School, a supernatural horror by first-time feature director, Storm Ashwood.
A very relaxed Ashwood was deep in post production when we spoke to him recently from his Sydney home.
“The editor is surprised how easily everything is coming together,” an excited Ashwood told Cinema Australia. “At this stage it’s really looking great,” he laughed, relieved the job was paying off.
This is the first time Ashwood has called the shots on a feature film, but the director is no stranger to the industry having a very long list of film credits to his name. He has performed various duties for feature films like The Infinite Man and Boys in the Trees as well as a long stint on McLeod’s Daughters – a right-of-passage for almost every contemporary Australian filmmaker.
Ashwood quickly pushed aside any anxieties he had before picking up the megaphone. “Leading up to day one of production I started feeling very weird,” said Ashwood. “My girlfriend and my kids told me I was acting very strange and I realised that it was performance anxiety. At the end of day one I quickly realised that I was fine and I knew I had this,” he laughed. “We had some hard times and we had to make difficult calls here and there but that’s the same on every film.”
Much of The School’s story has remained a mystery with only a very short synopsis available online. It tells of a mother, Dr. Amy Payne (Megan Drury) who is looking for her missing son in an abandoned school inhabited by a supernatural terror. Ashwood’s description of the story is much more revealing.
“The School is a type of purgatory,” Ashwood tells us, choosing his words carefully as to not give too much away. “The physical realm of the school is a place where children might find themselves once they die. This might be a place where kids get stuck. This mother is trying to find her son in a very different world to ours which is controlled by children.”
According to Ashwood The School is Lord of the Flies meets the very dark side of Peter Pan. “Megan’s character learns that the leader of the school is a dark entity that has been trapped there for a very long time.”
Ashwood assures horror film fans that they will be rewarded but the film also has strong fantasy themes and for good reason. “Audiences are really smart nowadays, in particular teenage audiences,” Ashwood said. “As soon as you say you’re making a horror film, teenagers already get the story before it even starts and I know that because I’ve got teeangers myself. When we sit down and watch a horror film they can tell me the whole story before the first act is over,” Ashwood laughs. “Audiences are so familiar with the formula so it’s time we started to blend genres and mix it up a bit. That’s where the fantasy element comes into it.”
The School was shot at Sydney’s Gladesville Mental Hospital, a building over 170 years old which was originally called Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. While being sympathetic to the hospital’s patients past and present, a little part of me hoped Ashwood, or at least a member of his crew, would have an interesting story to tell from their time spent in the historic hospital.
“It’s a very scary place,” Ashwood said wide-eyed. “There’s a part of the building where we shot many scenes and it really didn’t have a good vibe about it. It didn’t feel nice at all.”
While preparing for a shoot, one of the film’s makeup artists had a strange encounter with a gentleman who had decided to pop in to see what was happening. “The gentleman asked if he could look around and told the makeup artist that he hadn’t been here since it had closed down,” Ashwood said. “He then told her he used to work in the hospital and that he had watched one of the patients slit their throat open right where she was standing.”
It’s an horrific story, but no doubt one of many in a building that has housed so many troubled souls for almost two centuries.
The crew tried to keep the building’s dark history from the young stars of the film but considering the central theme of The School is about letting go and moving on in a world full of monsters and graphic creatures, it added to the childrens’ performances which Ashwood rates as being top notch.
“The youngest kids were all absolutely awesome,” Ashwood said fondly. “They were all such professionals and they all worked very, very hard. It was a long casting process but the cast we chose had a very strong understanding of the story we were trying to convey.”
Actor Jack Ruwald had an incredible work ethic according to Ashwood who raved about his young star. “The energy Jack had to maintain was incredibly and he handled it like a complete professional,” Ashwood said. “He was brilliant and I’m not surprised to hear he was shortlisted to play Storm Boy.”
We’re not sure if that last bit is a scoop, folks. But if it is, you heard it here first.