REVIEW: “The Tutor” (2023)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Who knew the world of big city professional tutoring was so treacherous? Well it certainly is in the lightly gonzo and undeniably entertaining new thriller “The Tutor”. The film comes from director Jordan Ross, working from a screenplay by Ryan King, and stars the inspired trio of Garrett Hedlund, Victoria Justice, and Noah Schnapp.

Hedlund plays Ethan, a highly sought after tutor for the children of the rich and privileged. He works for a firm ran by his boss and friend, Chris (Joseph Castillo-Midyett), that sends its private educators to the homes of one-percenters to teach an assortment of pampered pupils. Ethan has earned a good reputation, mainly due to his ability to connect with the often troubled teens he instructs.

Image Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

Ethan gets a call from Chris who tells him about a new client who has requested him by name. The family wants to start with a one-week trial basis, during which they’ll pay Ethan $2500 per day. There are a couple of conditions. First, he’ll have to spend the entire week on the premises. Second, they’ll be paying him under the table (now if that isn’t a warning sign). The deal is too sweet to pass up, especially since Ethan and his girlfriend Annie (Justice) are about to have a baby. They need the money so Ethan takes the job.

After being picked by a spit-shined luxury Cadillac, Ethan is driven to a gated country estate with its swanky accommodations, well-manicured gardens, and a garage full of expensive motorcycles. There he meets Jackson (Schnapp), an oddly disconnected teen and the only child of glaringly wealthy parents who are nowhere to be found. His dad is away on business, but Jackson says he’s not allowed to talk about his father’s work. And he’s even more vague about his mother. If things weren’t weird enough, Jackson has no idea what he scored on his SATs. He doesn’t even know what they’re supposed to be studying.

Aside from the family’s stern yet well tailored butler, also staying at the estate is Jackson’s space cadet cousin Gavin (Jonny Weston) and his sex kitten girlfriend Jenny (Kabby Borders). The two add an extra coat of weirdness to a story that gets more twisted with each scene. Jackson’s behavior gets more erratic and he develops “a slightly unhealthy attachment” to Ethan. Soon we’re asking the question, is Jackson a mad genius or is he something far more sinister.

You may be thinking this sounds like just another crazy stalker flick, and you wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. It has all the pieces that help make it feel that way. But to Ross and King’s credit, they kinda bait us into that easy-to-make snap judgement. In reality, their story begins taking on a different shape in the third act, and the big twist(s) swing things in an unexpected new direction. It makes things fun, in a very ‘I didn’t see that coming‘ sort of way. But admittedly things get a little far-fetched and not all the pieces fit as nicely as they should.

Image Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

Still, I can see “The Tutor” being catnip for fans who enjoy the steady flow of big-twist thrillers that regularly come out today. Both Ross and King seem to know what genre lovers are looking for and they meet those easy-to-define expectations. Really good performances from Hedlund, Schnapp, and Justice help keep the characters interesting and make it easier to overlook some of the material’s more far-out turns. But honestly, it’s those far-out turns that often make movie’s like this fun.

At the same time, you can’t help but pick apart some of the more outrageous aspects of the story. Some pretty obvious questions spring up once you start considering how things take shape. That ultimately holds the movie back and keeps it from being as memorable as it might have been. But for those able to avoid the traps of over-critiquing or even overthinking, “The Tutor” captures much of what people enjoy about these popular popcorn thrillers. “The Tutor” is now showing in select theaters and on VOD.


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