The Expelled (2010)

Also listed as F on IMDB for some reason. The story concerns Robert Anderson, an English professor who makes a point of taunting and belittling his students until one of them finally gets fed up and decks him. Now, in the real world, this would have resulted in immediate suspension for the student in question, because that is assault. However, The Expelled works on a different system of logic than our world, because in their world, Mr. Anderson is the one facing disciplinary actions. Because…reasons. After taking some forced leave, Mr. Anderson finds himself in divorce procedures with his wife, clumsily attempting to connect to his now distant daughter, and completely passive in the face of his students’ indifference and rudeness in the classroom. In his off time, Mr. Anderson has descended into paranoia, obsessively collecting information on violent crimes committed by teenagers – especially crimes committed against teachers.

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Seeing a trend here?

We discover that every aspect of Mr. Anderson’s life has been changed for the worse because of this one event. He’s become disillusioned with life and incompetent at his job, humored by increasingly frustrated and confused colleagues. After sentencing his daughter to detention, Mr. Anderson begins to suspect that a group of hooded teenagers has broken into the school with the express purpose of causing violent mayhem. He attempts to convince the other professors and security guards stuck in the building to call for help, but none of them believe him.

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Then people start dying, and it turns out his paranoid ranting might actually have a point.

The Expelled is a weird movie. It’s also an oppressively dreary one. There’s a difference between creating an atmospheric story and sucking all of the color out of it. All of the scenes are shot in increasingly gray shades, and green shadow. If there’s a metaphor there, then I have missed it. The camera work veers toward close-ups too much for my liking and the hand-held shots are a bit too blunt to be effective. Again, there is a difference between creating a creepy, atmospheric space, and beating your audience over the head with a sign reading MOOD: CREEPY. IT’S CREEPY. DON’T FORGET IT’S CREEPY. DID WE MENTION IT’S CREEPY?

 

Trust me. We get the point.

 

Subtlety is not a strength of The Expelled. Strangely, this is combined with an unwillingness to display acts of violence, but instead focusing only on the aftermath. Normally this would be a move I’d applaud in a horror film, but thematically it doesn’t fit with the camerawork in the rest of the story. The Expelled tends to (not literally) hit the audience in the head with its themes and the mood of any chosen scene. There’s no subtlety or nuance in any of the scenes. Hell, the ending is the only scene that actually leaves things up to interpretation. Everything else is clearly and loudly spelled out to the audience. We know how we are supposed to feel in every scene, who we are supposed to root for, and there are no moments of moral gray.

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Which, quite honestly, is boring. Incidentally, this is also how I felt for most of the film.

None of the characters are likable or interesting. There are no character arcs or development. I wasn’t emotionally invested enough to care whether these characters lived or died, which is a problem in a film that supposedly has A Message.

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Now, what is that message?

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I’m….really not sure.

The feeling I got while watching The Expelled is the same feeling I get whenever I see Fox News talking about the follies of the millennial generation; we’re lazy, violent, we don’t see the big picture, and worse of all, we don’t respect our elders. That seems to be the underlying theme, insomuch as The Expelled actually has one. However, the film doesn’t give us any adult figures that are actually worthy of the respect they so desperately crave. We never learn the reasons or even the identities behind the hooded killers, so it’s impossible to gauge the validity of their motives one way or another. Nothing in the film indicates that Mr. Anderson was actually a good teacher before the incident. Furthermore, his defining moments are, in order, hitting his daughter and letting his ex-wife walk into a trap.

I could get behind a film with an unsympathetic protagonist, but The Expelled seems determined to see things from Mr. Anderson’s perspective. I find this troubling, to say the least.

It should also be said that while violence in schools is a worldwide problem, the way that The Expelled addresses them doesn’t add anything productive to the discussion. The issues of race, poverty, and discrimination are never even touched on. Instead, we have an entire cast of well off and decidedly unlikable white protagonists struggling against a pack of hooded teenagers. Intersectionality is never brought up. Of course, that would have required some nuance in the writing, which The Expelled lacks.

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If this film were made in America, the group of hooded teenagers would have been immediately coded as black – however, I’m told that hoodies don’t have the same racial implications abroad that they do in the US. This may have changed do to events that occurred after the film’s release (2010), but it’s my opinion that the villains in The Expelled aren’t coded as racially Other when compared with the protagonists. This is one point in the movie’s favor. Yay, it’s not overtly racist.

The one thing I did enjoy in the film was how the villains were filmed. They were portrayed more as a pack of silent animals than human beings, using parkour to slip in and out of shadows, and never once making a sound. The scenes were they surrounded and closed in on a victim were some of the most effective in the film.

To sum up, this film hates teenagers. Normally I’d say skip it, but I’d like someone to watch it so I can have someone to discuss it with. Someone has to make sense of this.

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