Next time you suspect your neighbor is a wanted criminal, they just might very well be as in the case of Todd Bowden, an excelling high student who discovers a WWII Nazi war criminal has been secretly living in his quaint hometown. Through his own investigation of photograph comparisons and retrieval of finger prints, Bowden confronts the old man, Kurt Dussander, about his notorious past. Living under a pseudonym and wanted by the Israeli government, Dussander attempts to dismiss the boy’s claims until his bluff to call the police is called, resulting in Bowden’s curiosity to become a blackmail gambit that puts Dussander under the student’s quizzical thumb. In return for not informing the authorities, Bowden requires Dussuander to reveal his story, the story of his stint at the extermination camps without sparing any details no matter how gruesome. Bowden even goes as far as purchasing a replica SS officer uniform that he forcibly commands Dussander to put on and march. Through his reminiscing of the past, an evil reawakens in Dussander and their banal friendship of psychological warfare goes into the dangerous trenches of survival and eradication that spreads like a cancer inside and outside their private lives.
Before the monumental eruption of continuous claims of sexual misconduct by various accusers, Bryan Singer furnished significant prominence as a director and overall filmmaker before he inadvertently kick started a very long, very successful, and very lucrative series of superhero films and their related and unrelated sequels and spinoffs, starting with Marvel’s “X-Men” in 2000…19 years ago, Holy sh*t! Well, in 1998, coming off his success of “The Usual Suspects” with fellow accused celebrity and now blacklisted actor Kevin Spacey and currently untarnished Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, Singer and Phoenix Pictures presented and released the suspense-thriller, “Apt Pupil,” a Bad Hat Harry production. Inspired by the Stephen King novella, “Apt Pupil” is the polarizing observation of two evil souls where one might be significantly eclipsing the other. Brandon Boyced (2005’s “Venom”) drafted a script based of King’s novella that was comprised of a different, and less pessimistic, ending to the novella while still uncompromising King’s baseline evil theme.
High school students, especially males, often have an aggressive temperament. Whether it’s sports, girls, or just trying to fit in, guys almost always take their tunneled focus to the extreme. For Todd Bowden, a brilliant young student, a fascination with the grim extermination of Jewish people and the Nazi culture tickled his fancy. Brad Renfro, only 14-years-old at the time of filming, stars as Bowden and really digs into the character’s adolescent psyche of relentless obsession, having his character converging all power from a big time war criminal and, even more simplistically, an older adult male, to himself, but when things go sour and Bowden starts to lose grip of his pawn, panic sets in and Kurt Dussander’s wicked and warped mind structures a counterattack that seemingly befriends the boy, but really demonizes Bowden’s already appalling obsession. Sir Ian McKellen, in a performance of pure brilliance, masterfully crafts a representative of evil in Kurt Dussander. The scene with McKellen stepping into a SS officer uniform and then marching with prerogative purpose that’s topped with a Nazi salute is perhaps one of the best chilling and unsettling performances of our lifetime. The dynamic in the scene between Renfro and McKellen, carefully shot and executed in direction by Singer, respects the bleak humanity enthralled by Stephen’s King body of literary work. There are some other amazing performances here by the supporting cast including David Schwimmer (“Friends”), Bruce Davison (“Willard”), Ann Dowd (“Hereditary”), Joshua Jackson (“Urban Legend”), Elias Koteas (“The Prophecy”), James Karen (“The Return of the Living Dead”) and Heather McComb (“Stay Tuned”).
As aforementioned, “Apt Pupil” has an evil duality narrative that contain descriptive horrors of the past, paints the means of callous obsession, and symbiotic necrosis of any good left in Todd Bowden or Kurt Dussander when together, but on the surface level, Kurt Dussander’s murderous duty to the cultural cleanse severely overshadows Bowden’s seemingly curious obsession, his blackmail of a notorious war criminal, his deception amongst those close to him, and, the inevitable, stony perception to murder. More than likely innocence could be blamed for the fact that Bowden is a child and Dussander’s a man living the last moments of his life, but Bowden becomes the catalyst for Dussander, reigniting the evil thoughts and actions of SS officer’s former life. Dussander attempts many degenerate actions from his past and never successfully succeeds in completing them whereas Todd ultimately finishes it either for Dussander, willing or not, or for his own self-preservation. By the end of “Apt Pupil,” the question you might ask yourself is how do you feel about either character? Despite the scale of their evils, which character ultimately, in the scope of Singer’s film from beginning to end, is the true representation of evil? To me, the finale feels like Dussander inadvertently passes the torch to Bowden and with his obsessive nature toward Nazism and extermination, the boy will grow up to continue being that representative of evil?
Umbrella Entertainment presents Bryan Singer’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, “Apt Pupil” onto Blu-ray home video. The region B, full HD, 1080p Blu-ray is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the quality is crisp excellence with a sharp hi-def scan of textures and the details in Mckellen’s facial curvatures that just open up to expose the wily diabolical smirk from the vet actor. Coloring and skin tones are okay despite the release being slightly yellowish and inkier in comparison to other releases. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio does the job and is balanced all around with dialogue clear and present and the John Ottoman (“X-Men” franchise) is menacing without being overwhelming, but the ambience’s depth and range are stiffened from a lack of surround sound that could have been achieved with this release. The special effects are slim with a behind-the-scenes featurette that’s more surface level depth with cast brief cast and crew interviews and also includes theatrical trailer and TV spots. Viewers too caught up in the superhero hype might not recognize that Bryan Singer helmed “Apt Pupil” or might not even care in lieu of sexual accusations, but hardcore Stephen King fans and horror aficionados can certainly appreciate a blanket thriller with haunting performances that will be remembered more than the marring scandal behind-the-camera.