Starring: Melanie Martinez, Emma Harvey, Megan Gage
Director: Melanie Martinez, Alissa Torvinen
Running Time: 96 mins
K-12 is an American film about two outsider schoolgirls who, despite being regularly under fire from their school and classmates, put on a brave face and work together to bring down their school’s oppressive system.
If there’s one thing that you can’t deny about K-12, it’s that it’s different. Different doesn’t always mean good, and it can often be the very reason a film fails, but watching K-12, it’s striking to see just how ‘out-there’ it is. Effectively a 90 minute-long music video, it’s a visually striking watch that’s full of unique ideas, and while it doesn’t quite manage to justify itself as a great film, it’s the sort of movie that absolutely deserves praise for trying something different.
Let’s start on that very note, because while K-12’s core premise may sound familiar – similar to your average high school movie – it goes about it all in a very different way, and although it never really manages to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the narrative, there’s something about its extreme uniqueness that makes it a magnetic watch at times.
Whether it’s the striking pastel colour palette or Melanie Martinez’s bizarre yet dashing appearance and costume, there’s always something slightly off-kilter to grab your attention here, and particularly in the opening act – when it’s all a bit fresher to you, it’s actually a really charming quirk.
But not only is this is a unique film when it comes to the visuals, but also its use of music and structure. Made to work around the songs of Martinez’s music album, the film plays out like a record with a series of strange and atmospheric songs which (although they’re not quite my cup of tea) are surprisingly memorable, particularly the opening number that takes a twisted look at the classic melody, The Wheels On The Bus.
With all of that, there’s no denying that K-12 tries something different, and does well to stick to its guns throughout despite being so out there. However, as impressively unique as the film is throughout, it’s not something that ever really enthralled me beyond a superficial level.
For a variety of reasons, K-12 feels distinctly amateur in its delivery, and despite the impressive and lavish costume and production design, it features a slew of poor, amateurish performances, a dull imagination, and a pretty incoherent story that make things a lot more difficult to really take an interest in.
And what’s more is that, as the music takes a more and more central role as the film goes on, it becomes to difficult to understand what this film has to offer beyond being just a 90 minute-long music video, or even just a PR stunt for a new album. I’d like to call it experimental, much like the brilliant feature-length music and dance video Girl Walk // All Day, but K-12 just doesn’t have enough depth or heart to it to really feel like a feature film.
As a result, this film – although it may sound like a bit of a cliché – really does suffer from a case of style over substance. K-12 is unique and striking on the surface, and deserves real praise for trying something very different, but it ends up as a film that never really manages to justify its own existence, suffering with a dull and incoherent narrative and poor-quality performances across the board, never living up to the ingenious and exciting facade it puts on, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.0 overall.