The Tutor, 2023.
Directed by Jordan Ross.
Starring Garrett Hedlund, Noah Schnapp, Victoria Justice, Jonny Weston, Kabby Borders, Matt Borlenghi, Michael Aaron Milligan, Kamran Shaikh, Ekaterina Baker, Ashritha Kancharla, Craig Nigh, Joseph Castillo-Midyett, and Exie Booker.
Follows a tutor who, after being assigned an unexpected task at a mansion, finds himself struggling with the obsessions of his student, who threatens to expose his darkest secrets.
In The Tutor, logic is abandoned, and characters don’t behave or react like real people. For roughly 30 minutes, director Jordan Ross (alongside screenwriter Ryan King) somewhat succeeds at setting up intrigue between a professional tutor that takes his work seriously and gets to know his clients and a psychologically disturbed 17-year-old prodigy boy coming from wealth who doesn’t require lecturing and testing on any subject.
Given that Ethan Campbell (Garrett Hedlund) was requested by name through the tutoring agency he works for, it’s not a spoiler to say that something personal is going on between him and this family, potentially something from his past that he has either forgotten about or doesn’t want to deal with. While Ethan is living it up in the guestroom (complete with a pool table), the odd scene here and there with his pregnant significant other (Victoria Justice) reveals cracks in their relationship that could theoretically come back at any time and be tied to the family that hired him to tutor their son.
This is certainly a compelling setup. However, once Ethan begins finding photos of him and his wife saved on Jackson’s (Noah Schnapp) computer, he doesn’t necessarily do much about it aside from lightly confronting the boy, his behavior strains believability. However, that’s nothing compared to the scene where Jackson stalks and shows up at an outdoor restaurant where Ethan and his wife are having dinner among other guests, and everyone acts like it’s totally normal behavior. Admittedly, Ethan goes on a cruel drunken rant about Jackson that shrugs off some legitimate trauma and mental concerns he could be struggling with, but the script seems to want to give Jackson’s invasive and uncomfortable behavior a pass.
Between the information that The Tutor gives viewers and how the story is presented, it’s easy to guess why and where the narrative is eventually going (maybe not the specifics, but the general goal). There is also a worthwhile story about a tutor who talks up his ability to connect with his clients, who is downright incompetent and insensitive when it comes to interacting with an individual that carries traumatic triggers (Jackson explains that his mom went away). Sometimes, it feels like the script was written with advocating for mental health in mind but largely fails because nothing here is handled with care.
Unfortunately, the dialogue is stilted, the performances are awkward (and not always in an intentional way where characters might be manipulating one another), and considering The Tutor consistently escalates in absurd stupidity, the acting also gets louder and worse. More frustratingly, the direction doesn’t seem interested in leaning into that trashy airport thriller quality; it genuinely believes it’s smartly written and that its third-act game is a stroke of brilliance.
The Tutor is also so caught up in that twist that it’s written to make no sense before that. You see what the film is doing before it actually does it, but the execution is so off that even when it happens, it’s still illogical and lousy. Even beyond that, characters are getting drugged and potentially framed for sexual inappropriateness, and many institutions are not investigating any of this properly for the story’s convenience. The filmmakers are the ones that need lecturing in putting together a competent sleazy thriller.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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