Who doesn’t love a good psychotic thriller built around one person’s obsession with another? A personal favorite of mine is The Crush, which saw Alicia Silverstone make Cary Elwes’ life a living Hell back in 1993. There are echoes of that in Jordan Ross’ suspenseful The Tudor, but it leaves a lot of potentially exciting twists and turns on the table considering the cast he has assembled.
Garrett Hedlund, who with his middle-age scruff and professorial eyeglasses makes it hard to believe he was EVER the fresh-faced kid from Tron: Legacy, takes on the title role as Ethan. Ethan is a highly sought-after tutor to the wealthy elite, but he’s still just a middle-class guy with a pregnant girlfriend, Annie (Victoria Justice, underserved here), and lots of bills to pay. But his fortunes change when he’s offered a big money gig tutoring Jackson (Stranger Things‘ Noah Schnapp), earning $2500 a day for one week stay on the family’s estate.
The initial meeting is odd, and has Ethan feeling edgy. Jackson doesn’t seem like he needs a tutor. While the kid is quiet, maybe a bit too stiff for someone his age, he doesn’t appear to have any trouble handling the mock SAT test. Another encounter with Jackson’s sketchy cousin, and a couple of leering young ladies he surrounds himself with, rightfully have Ethan wondering what is really going on.
Screenwriter Ryan King piles on a number of red herrings early, effectively knocking us off-balance. Early on, we see Ethan’s effectiveness at connecting with his students, and it’s something he clearly takes pride in. Shortly after their first encounter, the aloof Jackson opens up to Ethan a little bit, showing some emotional vulnerability. However, he won’t talk about his father or what he does for money. And all he’ll say about his mother is that she was sent away. But things escalate quickly as Jackson becomes more aggressively hostitle towards Ethan, and let’s slip that he knows his girlfriend is pregnant. How does this kid know this? What is happening?
The Tutor teases homoerotic tension between Ethan and Jackson that is momentarily intriguing, then sadly abandoned. Jackson’s intentions remain murky, but as he turns up the heat on Ethan, the tutor is the one becomes more unlikeable. There’s a twisted madness to Jackson’s game that is fun to watch. He’s tearing down Ethan’s veneer of respectability, but to what end?
Where the problem is with The Tutor is in how unbelievably the characters react to this high-tension scenario. As enjoyable as it is to watch Jackson’s plan at work, some of his moves expose so much that any idiot should’ve been able to see it, and we’re led to believe that Ethan, despite all his many many faults, is not an idiot. But more than that, Jackson’s actions don’t necessarily gel with the twist motivation that is sprung on us in the final act. The screenplay is steering us into believing one thing in order to pull the rug out, but that still requires all of the pieces to fit into the puzzle. The same goes for Ethan, who undergoes a personality shift that strains credibility. Annie is caught in the middle. It’s a nice change-of-pace to see Victoria Justice tackle a thriller film like this, and she’s good with the little she’s given to do, but poor Annie is ricketed about by the needs of the plot and not character consistency.
But Noah Schnapp is really good here as Jackson. The ease that he can shift from timid to hostile is scary, and Jackson is best when turning his seeming innocence into a weapon to be aimed at others. Hedlund is solid, as well, especially as Ethan’s world starts to fall apart. The Tutor is never quite as nasty as it could’ve been, and its logic gaps are many, but there’s some enjoyment in watching Schnapp twist the knife and in watching Hedlund squirm.
The Tutor is in theaters now.