Apt Pupil

09/26/2017 16:14

Film: Apt Pupil

Year: 1998

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Brandon Boyce

Starring: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro and Joshua Jackson



This film begins with a voice-over of a classroom that is learning about the Holocaust. There is a student who seems really interested in the subject, played by Brad Renfro. He takes the teacher’s advice and goes to a local library to learn more about the subject. We then see that he is on a public bus and it is a raining. An old man gets on and draws Renfro’s attention. We learn that the year is 1984.

Renfro is a high school student and he is best friends with Joshua Jackson. Jackson is your normal teen and Renfro seems to be distracted. After school Renfro goes to an older looking house. He picks up the newspaper and knocks. A man answers the door with a thick German accent; he is played by Ian McKellen. McKellen doesn’t want him there, but Renfro convinces the old man to let him in.

As they talk it turns out that McKellen is a former Nazi who ran a death camp and experiments. He denies it at first but Renfro had been following him for some time. He dusted his mailbox for fingerprints and it is an overwhelming match. Renfro states that he wants to hear the stories from McKellen and what he did during the war. The teen then blackmails him stating that if anything happens to Renfro, he has all of the information that will incriminate McKellen hidden and will be revealed.

Renfro starts to spend a lot of time over with McKellen. They even grow to be friends somewhat. Renfro invites McKellen over for dinner with his family even. It is under the guise that Renfro reads to him due to the old man’s failing eye sight. Renfro’s parents are played by Ann Dowd and Bruce Davison and his grandparents by James Karen and Marjorie Lovett. Everyone seems to like McKellen.

These stories start to corrupt Renfro though. He is on pace to be number one in his class, but his grades start to slip. He has trouble sleeping and keeps dreaming of what he has been told by McKellen. He starts to become angry and violent in nature. McKellen is forced to wear a SS uniform that Renfro purchases. Retelling these stories awakens something in McKellen as well.

Renfro’s guidance counselor is played by David Schwimmer. He is concerned with the decline in his grades and requests to see Renfro’s parents. Renfro goes to McKellen with this. We see Renfro as he practices forging his father’s signature. McKellen asks some questions about the guidance counselor. He decides to visit him, pretending to be Renfro’s grandfather. McKellen gets him out of telling his parents, but there is a daunting task to get back on track. McKellen also reveals that he has a hold over Renfro.

Things become even more complicated when a homeless man, played by Elias Kotas, sees McKellen in his SS uniform. Will Renfro be able to complete his task and not have to tell his parents about his slipping grades? Can he get from McKellen what is being held? Or will all of this be revealed, ruining both of them?

I have to say that I saw this film awhile ago and have read the novella by Stephen King previously. This does follow the concept very closely, but the endings are much different. I prefer the ending that King wrote to the one in this film, but that is a personal preference. Now the story of this film is great. You have a normal, great student and athlete in high school. He is interested in the holocaust, which isn’t abnormal. What is though is that he discovers a Nazi war criminal lives in his town and instead of turning him in; he wants all the horrible details. I love that we see the effect it has on him as he starts to descend into madness. This film does have a happier ending, but we also see that what Renfro went through has its change on him. Without spoiling it, the title does make a lot of sense in regards to the ending.

The acting in this film is pretty good. McKellen is great in his role. I read that he had trouble mastering the accent, but I thought he did an excellent job. I believed it completely. I love how evil the character he is portraying is as well. He does it so well that I still kind of feel bad for him in the end. Renfro did a pretty solid job as well. I think the film should have played up more in the beginning of him being normal, because the baseline for him is too close so the change isn’t as noticeable. I do love when he becomes powerless and the effect it has in the end when he does get it back. Jackson did fine in his role, even though it is quite small. I felt the film tried to play a little more with the father, Davison, but we don’t get enough of it.

Editing of the film was something else that I really wanted to touch on. I felt the pacing of the film was fine. It does run a tad long and does have some issues at the climax for me. I don’t know if enough tension was built. I will say though that I loved how they showed Renfro and his nightmares of the stories he is hearing. We do see that he is being haunted by the visions. There wasn’t much need for effects and what was used looked good. The score of the film didn’t really stand out, except for a few scenes. We see that McKellen uses a victrola to play records. It gives it an older feel, which I liked. There is also a German song played over Renfro’s studying montage and it is used at the ending during. I thought that was a good touch as well.

Now with that said, I would recommend seeing this film. It is an interesting film of two people vying for power and the corruption of youth. We see that the stories of the atrocities that are committed and the effect it has. Both characters are flawed and I liked that concept. The acting of the film was good. The editing was well done for the most part. I thought the score stands out with the scenes when it needed to. I feel that this is a very good film and deserves a viewing whether you are a fan of horror or not.


My Rating: 8 out of 10