Does anyone remember Bruce Coville and his stellar young adult novels in the "My Teacher Is An Alien" series? I damn well do. One of the best books I read as a kid (I did prefer "Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher" though) and although its been years since I enjoyed my time with those 'classics', I did happen to come across a dainty little Danish Horror film that perfectly captures that same ideology of those books. Just more in an adult way.
Carl struggles with the loss of his mother. His classmates, although your average kids, don't really understand him and his father and younger sister are having enough of a tough time coping too. When his sixth grade teacher comes down with a sickness, he finds himself going head to head with the new substitute. Evidence starts to build for him and a few classmates that their teacher is from another world and despite their protests to their parents, they seem powerless. Now the children of 6B have to stop this evil alien teacher before her secret plans come to fruition.
"The Substitute" is a fun and quick paced little Horror film that's fit for the whole family. This is the kind of film that has been missing for some time, picking up in the tracks that classic 80s children lead films like "Monster Squad" and "The Goonies" left off, and giving a taste of that rather user friendly and fun time that those kinds of films succeeded at.
Its a wonderful change of pace to have a Horror film with no gore (and very little killing) that's carried by fun characters and solid acting. It's these young actors and great visual eye by director Bornedal that make the rather simple story such a treat to watch. Even our villain Ulla does a stunning and fun job at being both sinister and somewhat humorous without being too cheesy.
Some of the plot scenes and elements might come off as odd but its this unique and almost fantastical side of the film that adds to its charm. The silver ball that Ulla uses to accomplish certain tasks ("Phantasm" anyone?) or how she feeds on chickens make this film a ton of quirky joy to watch. The chicken feeding scene is remarkably hilarious in its own dark ways with its slapstick take on what could have been a rather disturbing moment.
Despite its fun and family friendly vibe, "The Substitute" does have some nice adult like moments too with his father's attempts to cope and some of the ideologies behind the film concerning empathy and love, but it never loses the balance of what sort of film it is. It scores a big recommendation from me in that sense.
"The Substitute" was a complete and utter surprise to me. It was fun. It was clever. It worked its family friendly vibes to the max without losing step on what the film was aiming for. This film was definitely worth the watch.
BONUS RANT: Turns out there is a plan to remake this film here in America. DAMMIT. Why can't Hollywood leave this great foreign films alone!
Written By Matt Reifschneider