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Apt Pupil

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Apt Pupil

Starring: Ian Mckellen, Brad Renfro
Director: Bryan Singer
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Suspense, Thriller

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

Bryan Singer's adaptation of the the Stephen King novella _Apt_Pupil_ opens with images one would associate with such a title. A high school student receives an "A" on a paper and then shuttles off to the library, immersing himself in research as the opening titles unspool. As this dark, often disturbing psychological thriller progresses, the title's meaning remains the same, except it gradually takes on a much more sinister perspective.

The apt pupil seen at the opening of the film is 16-year-old high school student Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), whose intense extracurricular research on the Holocaust leads him to discover that one Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen), an old man whom he has seen around town, is really Nazi war criminal-in-hiding Kurt Dussander. But instead of turning him in, Todd proposes an odd exchange: his silence in return for Dussander's first-hand accounts of wartime atrocities.

Of course, dredging up the past brings to the surface Dussander's fascist tendencies, but _Apt_Pupil_ goes one step further in that the stories bring forth Todd's capacity for evil as well; it is this psychological seduction that lends the film a queasy fascination. Singer and screenwriter Brandon Boyce also go against the populist Hollywood grain by boldly making the already fairly unsympathetic characters _moreso_ as the film goes on. While the absence of a likable lead character will certainly off-put many moviegoers, and one contrived plot development is a bit hard to swallow, audiences are nonetheless more than likely to remain riveted by Renfro and McKellen's dead-on performances. Renfro's evolution from curious adolescent to hateful manipulator is unsettlingly believable while McKellen, speaking with a perfect German accent, gives Dussander an air of quiet majesty that is as frightening as it is deceiving.

While he heavily uses quick cuts and horrifying imagery, Singer admirably eschews easy "shock" gimmicks to jolt the audience out their seats. Instead, he appears more concerned with the collective effect of a variety shocks, visual and otherwise, on the viewer's psyche. As such, _Apt_Pupil_ gets under the skin like few thrillers do. A mad slasher with an axe does not necessarily constitute a successful frightfest; what does is the feeling of terror that comes with being pursued by such a force of evil. _Apt_Pupil_'s primary force of evil may be axe-less and of poor physical health, but his--and the film's--subtle brand of cerebral terror cuts sharper and deeper than anything found in a more conventional horror movie.

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