Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Brandon Boyce
Based on Apt Pupil by Stephen King
Starring Brad Renfro, Ian Mckellen Award
Running time 111 minutes
Apt Pupil is the film adaptation of Apt Pupil:Summer of Corruption from the Stephen King collection Different Seasons (which has actually spawned a total of 3 films including Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me) The written story differs from the book in several aspects. The violence level is much more understated in the film version, leading to a completely different ending for the film, which may sound like a bad thing at first but actually in some ways the film ending is darker. The timeline of the film is also vastly different, with the story progressing over the course of numerous years, where as the film takes place in the course of less than a year. Those differences aside the film very much holds the feel of Kings original work, with a taut, darkness that permeates the production.
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is a gifted student, he is studying the Holocaust in his history class and becomes obsessively interested in the horror of Nazi history. He realizes through extensive study that his elderly neighbor Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen) is in reality Kurt Dussander, a Nazi SS war criminal hiding in plain site. Bowden appears at Dussander's door and proceeds to tell him that he knows the mans secret. Dussander tries to deny the truth, threatening to call the police for harassment. Bowden calls the old mans bluff, and there begins Todd Bowdens plan to blackmail Dussander, but his payoff isn't money or gifts, its information. Bowden wants the gory details of the concentration camp atrocities told to him first hand by a man wanted for his part in those war crimes. Dussander, at first unwillingly, obliges the young man, but as the days pass the relationship between the two grows, as does the evil inside them both. What happens when you wake long buried evil within a man, and have a willing pupil ready to feast on the madness contained???
Although this film was a bit of a flop in terms of money, costing 14 million to make and bringing less than 9 million in box office sales, it was an award winning vehicle for both Renfro and McKellen. The film itself also won a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film 1998. Reception of the film was mixed among critics with some seeing it as a bit weak or implausible (with a student somehow finding a nazi war criminal no one else noticed). I both agree and disagree, yes the fact that Renfro is able to deduct who his neighbor is seemed a bit contrived, stranger things have happened in reality. The film doesn't hold the violence level many expected after reading the story but the film is still incredibly powerful and horribly dark, with incredible performances by both Renfro and Mckellen. The relationship that grows between the two characters is mesmerizing, watching as the power ebbs and flows from Bowden to Dussander, and back again.
This film takes you on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, you feel almost a deep pity for Dussander at points and at others you just as deeply are disgusted by him, and Bowden is no different. You watch as evil infects, from boy to man, and then man to boy, its an interesting journey that is made all the more believable by what we ALL know to be the truth of this type of psychology. I admit I think the film would have been well served to keep on a bit more of the violence, it would have made for a stronger horror film so to say, but the lack of violence doesn't diminish the utter blackness of the film. This is just a fantastic movie, and both McKellen and Renfro put out performances that help define just how talented they both are. To date this is still one of my favorite King adaptations, its just such a powerful piece, this is a film to collect and a story to read. One last point as I mentioned before the film and the story endings differ pretty greatly. The film ending is actually as dark, if not more so than the story, just in a different way. Its a nice surprise for those who have read, but not watched the adaptation, or the other way around. If you are looking for something that's different from the usual standard horror check this one out, its more than worth the time!