A mediocre misfire
The Catholic School could have been a really well written thriller. Based on the Circeo Massacre, Netflix’s latest original attempts to piece together the events leading up to this atrocious crime back in the 1970’s, set deep in the heart of Rome and exploring the psyche behind the boys responsible for what happened.
I won’t spoil what that crime is, especially for those unaware of the whole story, but the latter half of this film dives into the uncomfortable horrors that took place.
The setting for all this is a prestigious all-male Catholic high school in Rome, and through a series of confusing back and forth flashes (we’ll get to that), Director Stefano Mordini takes his time to introduce each of the kids, fleshes out their family history and throws them in the midst of the chaos that eventually ensues.
While the film does well to mix in themes of masculinity, religion, sexuality, toxicity and exploring the origins of evil, the format and presentation are both disjointed and haphazard. The boys are introduced in quick session early on, and that problem is only exacerbated by the constant jumps through time, accompanied by text like “5 months before”, “136 hours before” etc.
It’s such a bizarre format, and it really hurts the pacing of this movie, which moves from laborious and slow-paced to engaging and shocking. I can’t help but feel that a more linear structure would have benefited this a lot, and helped build up tension for the massacre,
Early on, we’re bombarded with a plethora of characters all at once, and the movie certainly takes its sweet time to untangle that knot it makes for itself to explain who everyone is.
While there are other kids showcased too, the bulk of the drama centers around a handful of different students. Arbus is the smart one, with a good looking sister whom fellow student Edo has a crush on. Jervi is your conventional bad-boy, complete with a motorbike and leather jacket. There’s also Gioacchino Runmo, who comes from a strictly Catholic family. And naturally, he longingly wants Jervi and finds himself conflicted about his sexuality.
The film spends a lot of time with each of these kids, exploring their family history and understanding their psyche. There’s a particularly well written foreshadowed scene with a bunch of kids learning about evil through a painting of Jesus Christ, something that ends up being a catalyst to a pretty dark and disturbing flogging scene. These stand-out moments are, frustratingly, few and far between.
The acting from all involved is pretty good and that certainly ties into the costume and production design too, which certainly bleed into the 70’s aesthetic. However, all of this accounts for nothing, given the screenplay plays cohesiveness.
Ultimately though, The Catholic School stumbles into mediocrity and never looks like recovering once it does. The constant jumps back and forth in time are distracting and do nothing to help the pacing, which oftentimes sags under the weight of expectation. Unfortunately this one is a missed opportunity.