Volume 92, Issue 29

Tuesday, October 27, 1998

purple haze


King's pupil a study in absolute horror

Photo by John Baer

HEY GUYS, POOL PARTY AT MY PLACE AFTER SCHOOL! Brad Renfro suffers a little more than regular teenage angst in the latest Stephen King screen adaptation, Apt Pupil.

By Malcolm Schmitt

Gazette Writer

Is there really such a thing as evil or are there only evil deeds?

That's a conundrum Apt Pupil was not made to answer – it was made to shock. The film is a tremendously well-contrived adaptation of a Stephen King story which leaves you overwhelmed, appalled and most likely wishing you won't have to experience it again.

Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) weaves the gripping story of high school student Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro, The Client), whose fascination with the history of the Holocaust leads him to research beyond the classroom. Through coincidence, Bowden recognizes the face of a neighbour as belonging to war criminal Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellan, Six Degrees of Separation) and once this is confirmed he confronts the man.

In exchange for Bowden's silence, Dussander is forced to recall accounts of his participation in Nazi death camps. Their relationship quickly corkscrews out of control, with Bowden ultimately releasing a monster while concurrently having his own life and mind absorbed in Dussander's world.

A psychological thriller requires characters who are absolutely convincing to keep its audience interested – and Renfro and McKellan go beyond this necessary status. In each confrontation, the actors relentlessly one-up themselves in a battle to see who can be the colder and more compassionless person. Renfro's portrayal of a misled young man is positively spooky and McKellan's Nazi role is complete and unconditional evil. These are award-winning calibre performances.

Singer, however, is the one who makes this film reach its maximum potential. His talent for intensifying the characters and their emotions, in addition to an immaculate sense of timing, makes this story intriguing for the full two hours. Character developments are used in a lead up to a remarkably elaborate and frenetic series of events which determine the fate of both Bowden and Dussander. Credit is also due to the writer of the screenplay, Brandon Boyce, who supplies the film with outstanding dialogue.

Notable roles in this movie include Bowden's best friend played by Canadian Joshua Jackson (Dawson's Creek) and the school guidance counsellor courtesy of David Schwimmer, who turns in a solid performance – or is it the mustache?

Apt Pupil is an experience which makes its captors cringe and swallow for the duration, hoping for the best to happen despite knowing it probably won't. Is there a lesson in it somewhere? Hidden meaning? Not really, it's just creepy as hell.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998