Teacher Shortage

Teacher Shortage ★★½

I was waiting for Teacher Shortage after seeing Troy's Party Night and Mrs. Claus, his previous low budget slasher films. While I did go pretty easy on them when I reviewed them before I wouldn't exactly say I was a fan. Still, I knew the guy had a love for the genre and I couldn't help but support him and check out his next film, also a slasher, by purchasing the DVD.

Let's start with the good. For my money's worth, Teacher Shortage is his best work of the three. The directing has a bit more intention behind it and some of the irreverent situations are genuinely funny such as the opening where a girl is called skank by all of her peers with editing actually enhancing the absurdity. There's a fun logic-defying wooden ruler through the mouth and out the back of a teacher's skull, practical effects and all. To best that? The editor on Troy's films has finally learned to cut away after the carnage instead of lingering on the gore for too long. There's a nod that ties this film into the universe of a previous Troy film if you can spot it. It's not hard.

I wouldn't say any of the acting sets the world afire but the characters here are written with a bit more personality than what we've seen before. Distracting orange make-up aside (!?) the film flows and doesn't feel like it's double its length (looking at YOU Pitchfork...). The killer is dressed in a grad cloth and a demonic goat mask. Don't ask me what that means, if it's a G.O.A.T. reference or whatever but it is creepy. There's actually this great short chase scene in the bar near the end with empty bottles lining the countertops and it's energetic. This is the highlight across Troy's work. Our leading final boy, not girl, is a gay teacher having a hidden relationship with Mr. Principal (that may or may not be his name in the film, I don't want to shatter my reality fighting that, so let's just say that's his actual name) so represent!

To ground it all, here's what prevents me from going the full 3 stars, which I was leaning toward until a few stops before the end. First, there's a giallo vibe they're going for here with Goblin-esque nu-electronic scoring and stark Argento reds/blues during the murders. So basically, it's not really a giallo, it's just a slasher inspired by the color palette of Suspiria and a few others. This could be an interesting gimmick but the victims never enter a room that's filled with this color. They're in a normal setting and then we get a cut to a part of the killer and it's red. It doesn't mesh and it's very noticeable. What it does do, however, is hide any practical effect works that may be wonky and the murders themselves work alright. Other than the ruler and maybe the slashed neck, gory and in variety doesn't equal a powerful punch here, so I can't praise it all like I'd wish.

Now for the first little bit I was really enjoying this as a brainless slasher, 2 deaths in and some dialogue, while not great, at least wasn't "I dunno, what do you want to do" trash, so uh, kudos. However, when I realized that the film wasn't going to be teachers killed around the school, but mostly killed at a house party, my heart sank a little. Forgivable because of these low budgets, the locations are often white, plain and lack flavor, save for the bar. Some talk about teachers not receiving the respect or salary they deserve was nice but the film puts its hand in too many cookie jars and so any intentions for thoughtful writing eventually feel repetitive, possibly just filler and not really saying a whole lot. I thought that its talk about appeasing grades and following protocol for failing students may have been about slasher films measuring up to pressure and demand to do things the right way or whatever, but I think that was more me overanalyzing than anything actually on purpose.

There are shots that want to be more stylish than I think they were meant to portray, such as shallow focus with a... blurred water faucet in the foreground? There's a few of these shots and edits that are on purpose but they don't really do anything, and are just there because that's what, uh, stylish films are supposed to do? Except not, because that misses the point. It's strange and doesn't really work, but I suppose when the alternative could be no style whatsoever then it's innoxious and hey, I'll take that.

This is low low budget and as such I'm not going to give it a low rating because it's not Rocky II. While some pitfalls carry over from Troy's previous efforts, and I wouldn't necessarily say any of the three are strongly directed, written or shot with cinematic taste, overall he has learned from many of his mistakes and I can honestly say that I'm going to enter his next film with more optimism than I had going into Teacher Shortage. It doesn't stick the landing for a full 3 stars, but hell, I liked this far more than I imagined before I placed that DVD into my PS4. Not bad at all.