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Into the Dark - Season 1, Episode 11: “School Spirit” TV Episode Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Released by Hulu and Blumhouse

Into The Dark S01 E11 School Spirit Large

Directed by Mike Gan
Written by Patrick Casey, Josh Miller, and Mike Gan
90 minutes, 2019, Not Rated
Premiered on Hulu on August 2nd, 2019

Starring:
Hugo Armstrong as Mr. Armstrong
Jessi Case as Lizzy
Corey Fogelmanis as Brett
Philip Labes as Russ
Annie Q. as Erica Yang
Jordan Austin Smith as Jason
Rickey Alexander Wilson as Chester
Julian Works as Vic

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Review:

When August rolls around, that most universal of rituals comes back around to burden us all: the return to school. You’re either dealing with the rigors of the school system as a prisoner or putting your children through it. It’s absolutely inescapable. It’s a critical thing. You could even say it’s a matter of life or death, figuratively speaking.

What if it were a literal matter of life or death?

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"School Spirit" follows five degrees of misfit students stuck in Saturday detention at the end of the first week of school at Helbrook High: Brett (Corey Fogelmanis; Ma) is the shy goody two-shoes; Vic (Julian Works; Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) is the classic tough guy; Russ (Philip Labes; GLOW) is the slacker and professional troublemaker; Lizzy (Jessi Case; Mother’s Day) is the bad girl who’s really just trying to escape her alcoholic father. Then there’s Erica Yang (Annie Q; The Leftovers), the Harvard-bound surefire valedictorian and Senior Class President. She’s the polar opposite of the other kids, and they all wonder just what the hell she did to land in Purgatory with them and the angry, alcoholic Vice Principal Armstrong (Hugo Armstrong; Room 104). Helbrook High has a dark secret, though: every year students disappear without a trace, said to be taken by “the School Spirit”. Saturday detention is about to turn into a bloodbath.

"School Spirit" wears its inspirations loud and proud on the most prominent part of the sleeves. It’s a pure slasher with a heavy dose of the template of The Breakfast Club; the story beats of I Know What You Did Last Summer; the finishing touches of Sleepaway Camp; and the kill creativity of Friday the 13th. There’s no attempt at breaking new ground; this is a love letter to the tropes of its parental genres. You could knock it for being derivative, but what’s the harm in paying homage to some of the best? What "School Spirit" lacks in originality it more than makes up for in style and a deft mix of humor and surprisingly sharp commentary.

The writing trio of Patrick Casey, Josh Miller, and Mike Gan want you to get the message loud and clear that our teen years and the dreaded high school career are not to be marginalized. While that may sound passé, it’s easy to forget how all-important the struggle was when you were knee-deep in it. For these five, life or death is not a figure of speech, but it was already pretty serious stuff to begin with. The young cast take solid material and elevate it with almost shockingly nuanced performances, especially in the case of Annie Q’s Erica Yang. She makes a star turn here that will take you through a range of reactions.

That being said, it’s still a slasher in the purest sense of the word that’s having some real fun. The gore FX, while not overdone, is highly competent and gleefully bloody. I’m still so damn happy that the paper cutter was put to such effective use. Don’t tell me I’m the only one who daydreamed about introducing some folks to its nasty blade. (Did I say that out loud?)

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The twist(s) at the end had me smiling; I love a pitch-black sense of humor. The setup and locale for the final showdown surely has the Angel of Death herself, Angela Baker, smiling an evil grin. If you’re going to crib, by God crib from the best of the cheese and do it with an unabashed lack of shame. The final act really puts this one over the top!

"School Spirit" is a flat-out blast that also manages the deft trick of having something to say inside its bloody joyfulness. That’s not easy to pull off without having tonal issues. If you’re looking for proof that the slasher film is not only alive and well but capable of making you think about the pressures we put the young through, then look no further than the latest entry in the Into the Dark series.

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Grades:

Episode: Fourandahalfstars Into The Dark S01 E11 School Spirit Small
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About The Author
Stuart Monroe
Staff Writer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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