The Horror of the Everyday: The Teacher’s Lounge (2023) - Reviewed

Image courtesy of Alamode Films

Occupation-related horror delivers its shocks through realistic depictions of its chosen field, oftentimes becoming too real for those in that line of work. Both versions of The Office were too real for many who spent time in dysfunctional offices, leaving many unable to watch the show. 
The Teacher’s Lounge (2023) takes the everyday, psychological horror of hoping that the hundreds of rapid-fire decisions you make in a day don’t come back to haunt you, and stuffs this into an intense 98 minutes. A swift pace and unsettling nuance makes the horror story of a teacher’s misstep into a difficult viewing experience for any teacher. 
Carla Novak (Leonie Benesch from The Swarm) begins the movie as a teacher having to sit through a coercive interrogation of two student leaders in her class regarding someone who’s been suspected of stealing. Another teacher and an administrator display a list of the student’s middle school classmates and ask the students to say something about as they run a pen down a list of names. Carla tries some subtle ways to stop the interrogation, but is ignored. 
Soon afterwards, Carla’s class is interrupted by the administrator and yet another teacher, demanding students to leave their wallets on their desks and stand to the side of the room. It’s inferred that one student, Oskar (Leonard Stettsnitch), is the student indicated during the previous interrogation. However, he doesn’t have a wallet, and a large amount of cash is discovered in a different student’s wallet. 
However, the damage has been done and students suspect Oskar. Suspect tactics like this are used because of the school’s zero tolerance policy on various issues. The film doesn’t hold back on depicting the collateral damage that comes from school policies like this. It also doesn’t shy away from teachers like Carla hiding student outbursts or behavior due to empathetic extenuating circumstances. 
Each realistic situation, including microaggressions and Carla’s reputation and abilities being questioned in the school’s teacher’s lounge, ratchets up the tension and psychological horror of the everyday. Events continue to spiral when Carla leaves visible money in her wallet and her laptop camera on in the teacher’s lounge while she goes to teach. This attempt to gather evidence against a thief in the school only further escalates the tensions, confrontations, and problematic policies of the school.
Carla’s idealism is constantly challenged by the school’s policies, and her decisions are laid bare in a nightmarish, panic attack-inducing parent-teacher meeting. A reality of teacher life is having to answer for questionable and ill-conceived actions by administrators, and Carla is not spared this experience. 
All the unsettling nuances are made all the louder by the lack of explanations for who the thief actually is. Not having the answer makes Carla’s and the administrator’s decisions that much more tenuous and questionable. 
One scene highlights the iffy evidence Carla collects and turns it into a surreal sequence.  Though it bathes her in the horror of her uncertainty, it disrupts the cinéma vérité feel of the film, which makes stepping back into the action a little rough. 
What keeps this from fully being a horror movie are themoving moments of connection between Carla and Oskar, a student, like so many others, caught up in a situation he shouldn’t have to be in. These moments come off as more genuine than something in any of the unrealistic dedicated teacher genre films that seem to reappear once every decade. The finale becomes a culmination of all the unknowns, creating suspense that will make any teacher who’s spent time in a classroom afraid for both Oscar and Carla. 
The film was nominated for three Berlin International Film Festival awards, won four German Film awards, and is currently making its way through various American film festivals. 
- EB