Apt Pupil, 1998
In Apt Pupil, Bryan Singer, the director of the celebrated thriller The Usual Suspects, attempts to blend the more conventional horror film elements of Stephen King’s novella (adapted by Brandon Boyce) with a character study in the human potential for evil and its intoxicating power.
16-year-old Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is an “A” student, star pitcher on the high school baseball team and the object of the most popular girl in school’s affection. As the film begins, Todd and his classmates have just finished a week of study on the Holocaust. While the rest of the class moves on, Todd becomes obsessed with the subject matter, pouring over books, magazines and whatever other information on Nazis he can find
By seeming chance, Todd encounters an old man on a public bus. Todd recognizes the man from 40-year-old photos. He is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellan), an SS officer involved in the most horrible concentration camp atrocities. Todd blackmails Dussander, claiming to have a dossier on his war crimes in a safe deposit box. If anything happens to Todd, the material will fall into the hands of Israeli Nazi hunters. However, Todd doesn’t want money. He wants Dussander to tell him in gritty, gruesome detail, “The stories. Everything. Everything they’re afraid to show us in school.”
Dussander is reluctant at first, but soon, fueled by alcohol and his own blackened soul, he begins to recount his role in the heinous crimes against humanity with greater and greater zeal. He eventually turns the tables on Todd, blackmailing the boy, who inspired by Dussander’s evil, becomes a monster in his own right.
Ultimately, Todd’s sociopathic tendencies are not substantiated by enough meaningful psychological development to be entirely convincing. But the riveting performances of Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro leave a chilling impact in this gripping look at the nature of evil.