Based on Amazon’s previous track record with straight-to-streaming productions, I wasn’t expecting much from this seemingly out of the ordinary film, The Student; fortunately, the original storyline and character depth lead this one to exceed my personal expectations (and prove a previous Disney Channel star to be more than the companion to a talking dog).
The first (and only?) trailer for The Student gives away a solid majority of the plot; while this would typically disappoint, it allows the viewer to catch a glimpse of just how its unique premise stands out amongst other films in its genre.
All of us have seen (or at least heard of) the story of the boy/girl who sought to avenge their father’s/mother’s death. Well…here we go again. However, Vance Van Sickle chooses to avenge the death by working intensely to make sure the same thing that happened to his father doesn’t happen to anyone else. There is a lot of touching on mental illness, including a brief lesson on two types of medication; the subplots are slightly off-putting and unrealistic, but overall worth the watch. For a recap, here’s the IMDB version of the plot (spoilers included):
“After leading a jury to wrongly sentence a man, Abigail enters her new teaching job at the law school with a newfound commitment to ethics. When she takes over her new class, it includes Vincent, an intensely ambitious student who will do anything for an A. When Abigail fails him for academic dishonesty, Vincent threatens that he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. As Vincent’s devious plot begins to unravel, she must take her life into her own hands, or Vincent will take it himself.”
In an hour and thirty minutes, we are accustomed to seeing poorly-made horror movies or a sequel to a once-great children’s film. However, we see an interesting turn in The Student, where we get at least a partial angle on all characters that lead viewers to see them in an entirely new light.
Let’s begin with the main character, Blake Michael, whose marketing strategies on social media are the central reason as to why this film was really brought to the public eye. Last time we saw Michael, he was the oldest, angsty teenager in the Disney Channel Original Show, Dog with a Blog. Let me tell you–what a change. At first glance, Blake may only be recognized by his Lemonade Mouth roots, but The Student shows his maturity in more ways than one. This darker and more mysterious acting style that Michael has debuted in his latest release has the potential to not only make him more appealing to the now-young adult generation of teens who followed his Disney days, but also adult thriller fans who typically wouldn’t give him a passing glance. Acting aside, the character is very well-rounded, including the allusion to behavior stemming from not only the death of his father but a lack of support from his remaining parental figures at home. His flirtatious ways have traveled between films, and Blake Michael’s performance throughout will make this $3.99 rental worth the extra change.
The second of our central characters is Abigail Grandacre, played by our favorite soap star (if that’s what you’re into), Alicia Leigh Willis. For those of us who have only seen her multiple marriages on General Hospital or her long-running stint on 7th Heaven, there wasn’t much of an expectation. While her filmography is extensive, it didn’t seem to be anything to write home about. In The Student, she blows away my expectation as not only a critic but as an advocate for mental illness. Her portrayal of someone who has PTSD is impressive, albeit a more in-depth discussion about what exactly Abigail’s illness entailed would have created a broader and more informative picture for the viewing audience. Her character development was spot on, especially with the screenwriter-made connection between Abby’s past and that of Vance’s father before his demise. Overall, the performance was impressive, and I look forward to seeing more than a soap scene falling into Willis’s filmography in the near future.
The film clearly deserves to be highly praised, yet there are certain elements of the film that fall short of the plot; for example, I genuinely wish the very beginning and ending scenes has simply never happened. In fact, they could be completely removed from the timeline and the movie would have been just as successful as it is currently. The film opens with a silhouetted figure (who viewers know immediately is Vance) watching over a professor as he dies in the campus hallway, assumingly after taking the wrong medication (also assuming Vance had some part in his death). The issue isn’t that the scene is poorly executed, it’s that it literally ruins the suspense of the entire movie. From that point on, there is no guessing who will snap, only why he did. As for the ending scene, it’s just cheesy in the worst way. There will never be a sufficiently effective ending to a film that is a reoccurrence of the beginning, and even includes a fourth wall break with Abby staring straight into the camera. Quite frankly, I hated it.
All in all, I urge you to please not judge a book (or movie) by its star’s adolescent past, and give The Student a shot for what it is–a thriller with a more original plot than most others. If that isn’t enough for you, I’m afraid you’re missing out on something special; maybe this one could even teach you a lesson.