Storm Ashwood’s thriller ‘The School’ teaches scary life lessons

Jasper Lloyd in ‘The School.’

As a father of four, writer-director Storm Ashwood had long wanted to make a film that targets teenagers, including the often difficult transition from childhood innocence to adult responsibility.

More broadly, he set out to create a story about life and death and heaven and hell. The result is The School, a supernatural horror/thriller which marks his feature debut and will open in cinemas on November 22, distributed by The Backlot Films.

Produced by Lunar Pictures’ Jim Robison and Bronte Pictures’ Blake Northfield, the film stars Megan Drury as Amy, a surgeon who struggles to cope with her emergency room duties and as a young mother whose hospitalized son has fallen into a coma.

After being reprimanded by her boss Dr. Wang (Nicholas Hope) for obsessively believing her son will wake up, she becomes trapped in a purgatory of her own, an abandoned school where she is taunted and threatened by feral children. She has to face her own demons to find her son.

“I’m a father with four amazing children,” Ashwood tells IF. “I’m also a single parent and having undergone suffering myself, I wanted to create a world where both heaven and hell exist. A learning place for the imagination, a median where there are rules and boundaries. However, to survive you don’t just need to adapt… you also have the power to transgress this world. And so I wrote The School.

“As the story developed, I was inspired by other films with themes of the supernatural, parenting, loss and children including The Orphanage, The Sixth Sense, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Others and Dark Water.”

Fittingly, he shot the film at the Gladesville Mental Hospital in Sydney’s inner West, formerly the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum, Sydney’s first purpose-built asylum which opened in 1838.

Robison describes the film as a dark, supernatural fantasy-thriller targeted primarily at teenagers aged 15-plus, with a 60 per cent female skew. Northfield says: “We believe it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in Australian cinema for quite some time. It’s refreshingly creative and steps outside the box.”

Cinema Management Group has sold the title to more than 20 markets including the US, Germany, Korea and Japan. In the US Vertical Entertainment will launch the film in 10 of the top 20 markets including Los Angeles and New York on October 26.

With casting director Greg Apps Ashwood spent six months and held hundreds of auditions to find kids who were able to project innocence, obedience and protectiveness as well as vengeance, fear and ruthlessness.

Will MacDonald plays Zac, the leader of the group who is a teenage version of the Norse god Loki or The Joker. Texas Watterston is Zane, Zac’s right hand man and captain of the guard. Milly Alcock is Jien, a street-wise, tough teenager with a strong sense of judgment.

Jack Ruwald is Timmy, an eerie yet innocent young ghost with old-fashioned sensibility and a sharp, mature mind, while Alexia Santosuosso is Becky, a brave and witty urchin who has a magical doll.

The director, producers and key cast will attend an advance screening at the Ritz Cinema in Randwick on Tuesday August 21 at 7pm. For more info go here.