I can’t get over the chalkboard.
Student Body (no relation to 1981’s Student Bodies), is a low-budget Breakfast Club slasher riff, set in a fictitious, present-day (they use smartphones!) prep school. Early in the film, brainy yet mortally shy Jane (Montse Hernandez, destined for better things) is put on the spot by her sadistic math teacher (Christian Camargo), tasked with solving one of those Good Will Hunting math problems in front of her underachieving classmates.
Jane approaches not an interactive smart board, nor even a humble dry-erase whiteboard from my youth, the ones that would never satisfactorily erase no matter how hard you scrubbed, ever taunting you with phantom chicken scratch. Rather Jane walks up to an honest-to-goodness chalkboard. She picks up a chalk stick in what I understand to be some approximation of the year 2022, and begins, like Sisyphean Bart Simpson, her grim, screechy toil.
This is a deliberate anachronism. It’s Uma Thurman nonchalantly carrying a Samurai sword onto a commercial flight in the post 9/11 Kill Bill, brazen in its discordance. First-time director Lee Ann Kurr is pursuing a retro aesthetic, hence one classmate photographing Jane’s public embarrassment with an analog camera whose film must be manually advanced via lever. But due to what can probably be attributed to some combination of budgetary/time constraints, the production design can’t fully commit to a quirky Wes Andersonian hyper-reality, so I’m left distracted by isolated affectations. Much later in the film, as Jane and her thinly defined cohorts are chased through corridors by a mascot assailant, I’m still puzzling over what pedagogical museum the prop master must have consulted to find a suitable relic.
The plot involves Jane’s awful mean-girl bestie (Cheyenne Haynes) goading Jane into begging their teacher for grade mercy on behalf of the class, and when that goes sideways, getting the jerk fired. The script inexplicably shifts to a late-night alcohol raid resulting in an aforementioned masked killer stalking Jane and company. The closest the movie gets to satire involves their discovery that the building’s glass has been upgraded to bulletproof, conveniently trapping them inside with a maniac. This might explain where all the smartboard money went. If you squint hard enough Student Bodies sorta gets at the insular, cabin fever social anxieties and power imbalances students have to navigate on a daily basis. But Student Bodies is predominantly interested in trading witty banter between unimaginative kills. The superior Jennifer’s Body has enjoyed a reappraisal these past few years, so if you haven’t already, now is maybe a good time to check it out.
Anyway, chalkboards. Kim Kankiewicz wrote a delightful piece about them for the Atlantic. I was surprised to learn that the green chalkboards introduced in the 1960s came to an accelerated demise in the 1990s thanks to finicky computers. Not because of dazzling processing power or state of the art graphics, but because of concern over pesky chalk dust damaging the delicate electronics. Whiteboards, while a nuisance to clean, did not produce clouds of computer-threatening dust, and thus presented an attractive alternative. Perhaps aware of this trivia, none of Jane’s classmates appear to own laptops, their prop textbooks jacketed in paper bags. If nothing else, Student Body has an eye for detail.
Student Body (2022)
Runtime: 89 minutes
MPA Rating: No rating
Streaming: Available to rent