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The Tutor: A Thrilling Test of Trust and Obsession

Vertical Entertainment

Noah Schnapp may be hitting the books in real life at the University of Pennsylvania, but in the new film The Tutor, his character Jackson discovers a few things you wouldn’t necessarily learn in the classroom. What seems like an innocent interest in his tutor Ethan (Garrett Hedlund) quickly turns out to be an unsettling obsession that sparks a game of cat and mouse, leaving you wondering who you can trust and who’s really being tested.

The film starts with a day-in-the-life montage that introduces us to Ethan, a private instructor who travels from mansion to mansion tutoring kids of uber-rich families. Alexander Bornstein’s orchestral score and classical arrangements do a fine job of setting the tone and signaling the status of the monied elite Ethan works for. Still, some of the music choices feel a bit cliché. Edvard Grieg’s hurried and chaotic “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 is a classic indeed, but it’s a piece that seems to be everybody’s go-to for accompanying a character who barely makes it through a time-sensitive bind. Nevertheless, it sends a clear message that Ethan is in for a wild ride.

Ethan (Garrett Hedlund) sits and stares with a focused expression.
Garrett Hedlund as Ethan in The Tutor. Photo: courtesy Vertical Entertainment.

Ethan seems to have the whole teaching thing down to a science, saying it’s all about “making a connection.” Even the teenagers with the most severe cases of affluenza seem to bond with him and benefit from his expertise. Surely his new student, Jackson, couldn’t be much different, right? On paper, Jackson is a model student—smart, curious, and motivated—but as Ethan finds out, every genius has the potential to go mad.

The film is slow to reveal anything more about the stalker-student, but it leaves plenty of time to explore Ethan’s relationship with his girlfriend, Annie (Victoria Justice). With a new baby on the way, Annie wants to be sure she can trust Ethan not to fall into old cheating habits or follow in his father’s footsteps as an angry, abusive alcoholic. But when Jackson starts butting into their business and crossing the line, everyone starts pointing fingers at each other, starting a chain of events that pushes the plot into high gear. Justice delivers a solid performance that brings out believable paranoia and distrust in Ethan. Plus, you can’t deny her chemistry with Hedlund and their ability to escalate arguments into explosions.

Annie (Victoria Justice) stands in a dark room, looking distraught.
Victoria Justice as Annie in The Tutor. Photo: courtesy Vertical Entertainment.

Like any decent thriller, The Tutor does its best to maximize suspense and minimize unnecessary confusion. What this film does best is manage the pacing well enough to raise plenty of questions throughout the story without scrambling for answers in the last five minutes. The Tutor feels like pulling the thread of a sweater; the more you pull, the more the story is unraveled, and the greater its risk of tangling.

The characters go to great lengths to prove or deny their hidden truths by way of lying, cheating and sabotage. But saying much more than that in greater detail would surely dilute the experience of the movie’s plot twists and thrills.

The Tutor is a fitting next step for Schnapp. After playing the “cute kid” act early on in Stranger Things and again in the 2020 indie drama Abe, he deserves this opportunity to use his charms for a more mature and malicious character. (Alas, he still can’t catch a break from the cringe-worthy haircuts. Jackson’s slicked-down comb-over is only slightly better than the Will Byers bowl cut.)

Both Schnapp and Hedlund show a great range of emotions, from calm and vulnerable to enraged and borderline psychotic, to the point where you can sympathize with either character. In fact, Schnapp’s portrayal of Jackson is so manipulative and tense that he makes Ethan look and sound like an unreliable narrator in his own story.

Gavin (Jonny Weston) puts his hand on his cousin Jackson's (Noah Schnapp) shoulder as they plot their next scheme.
Jonny Weston as Gavin and Noah Schnapp as Jackson in The Tutor. Photo: courtesy Vertical Entertainment.

Schnapp has undoubtedly earned the praise for his convincing performance alongside his on-screen creepy cousin Gavin (Jonny Weston), but the film is rightfully called “The Tutor,” not “The Student,” for a reason. Hedlund truly shines in this film and does an exceptional job of bringing out his character’s inner Mr. Hyde. It’s shocking to see just how riled up the once calm and collected teacher can get when he’s threatened with losing everything he’s earned and everyone he loves.

Director Jordan Ross and writer Ryan King have played it safe by sticking close to the obsession and revenge themes. But it doesn’t feel like they missed any opportunities or tried to make the film more than it should have been.

There are more than enough layers to pull back from this complicated student-teacher relationship. And with plenty of unnerving surprises in store, it is well worth the watch. If you take away anything at all from The Tutor, it’s that someone always knows a little too much for anyone’s good. With intense and impressive performances from the entire cast, The Tutor will keep you glued to the screen until the credits roll.

Written by Piper Starnes

PIPER STARNES is a recent graduate of Syracuse University's Arts Journalism and Communications master's program and is currently based in Los Angeles as a creative copywriter for the LA Phil. She’s a 3D and 4DX movie enthusiast and loves whodunits, stop-motion animation, and anything with a great film score.


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