Based on a Stephen King novella, Apt Pupil is disturbing at best. We follow the life of Todd Bowden, a teenager with soft skin and a normal homelife played by Brad Renfro. Todd meets, blackmails and then becomes obsessed with an escaped Nazi war criminal. The two feed off each other, regaling in fantasies of pain, torture and murder. As time marches on (pardon the pun*), they begin to sink deeper into a mindgame of death and destruction that seems to drive them both mad.

The film is horrifying on more than one level. Most superficially, the plot uses the events of the Holocaust in an unusual fashion. It takes a look at death camps from the side most viewers aren't comfortable with--that of the Nazis. On a deeper level, the idea that evil can infect anyone--even a bright, innocent boy-next-door like Todd-- leaves the audience with a bitter taste in their mouths. It is of importance to note that the screenplay and the novella end differently; having first read Different Seasons, I was more than disappointed with the impotent ending of the movie. While this bothered me, in all honesty the most disturbing thing about Apt Pupil was one particularly painful scene in which a cat was burned in an oven to recreate the murder and cremation of Jews in death camps. The very thought gave me nightmares for a week.

Directed by Bryan Singer, this film is not the calibre of The Usual Suspects. The plot is a watered-down, less intelligent version of the short story and, while Ian McKellen's performance was shockingly believable, Renfro's was hard to swallow. Normally this wouldn't be a huge setback except that so much of the film relies on Renfro to pull it off. If you decide to see this movie, do yourself a favor: read the novella first. The themes are more intricate, the ending is much more powerful, and your imagination will take you places Bryan Singer can't.

Still curious? The cast includes:
Ian McKellen
Brad Renfro
Bruce Davison
Elias Koteas
Heather McComb
Joshua Jackson
David Schwimmer

Apt Pupil was released in 1998, is Rated R, and runs approx. 112 minutes long.**

*There are several scenes in the film where Ian McKellen's character dons his old uniform and marches in place to recreate his heyday.
**Movie stats were located at, of course.

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