Monday, April 8, 2013

DIFF 2013 Review: A TEACHER- Damon's Take

Directed by: Hannah Fidell
Starring: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, and Jennifer Prediger
Synopsis: A look at an Austin, Texas teacher that enters a relationship with one of her students

Sitting back and trying to decide on the perfect film to cap off my first night of the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival wasn't the most difficult decision. Most would choose something light or fun. Not me. Nope. Why spend the remaining hours of my day laughing when I could be shuddering from massive amounts of uncomfortable tension? Adding writer/director Hannah Fidell’s Austin shot film, A TEACHER, to the roster was a given. Inappropriate student-teacher relationship -- sign me up!

Ms. Watts (Lindsay Burdge) is a young high school AP English teacher. She gives quizzes, chaperones dances, goes out for drinks with her roommate... oh, and she has a highly illegal relationship. The secret beau her friends know nothing about is one of the students she teaches. Something tells me he gets plenty of opportunity for extra credit when they meet in secret for sex in the back of her car, at her place when her roommate is away, or sometimes there’s sex at his older brother’s house, and even sneaking off for a weekend away together, alone, on his family’s ranch. It seems that they have the perfect, secret, relationship. Well, until you remember that Eric (Will Brittain) is her freaking student! 

The thing with this movie is that it's not really what you might expect. This is a slice of this story and really nothing more. Just a glimpse into this forbidden relationship. People might come into this expecting some crazy FATAL ATTRACTION-esque craziness, or students gossiping about the couple, but this is just a small part of that. Nothing about this singular vision is a bad thing. A film does not need tons of subplots swirling around, padding out run time to keep you interested. Ms. Watts’ tale is displayed in a tight 75 minute package. Easy to digest and give way for those uneasy, complicated feelings to flow -- well between all the sex. And there's a lot of that.

As the film progresses, I could not help but wonder when the moment would happen. You know, when is someone going to get close to catching them in the act. But things don’t really play out the way you would expect. Definitely one of the biggest compliments I can give to the movie. It surprises and makes you squirm. But, once things begin to unravel, they really unravel. 

Big kudos go out to Burdge for her portrayal of the dubious teacher. From the beginning as a flirty, cute felon she draws you in all the way until things break down. You even begin to feel bad for her, since she really seems to care for this teen who appears to be in this for what all teen boys would want. There is a pivotal moment where she exchanges nothing but a look with a high school girl who is after "her man" that proves the right actor got the part. She looks betrayed, beaten, and frightening all at the same time. Shudder. Britain does a wonderful job as the sex crazed student and, evidently, visually pleases the ladies in the audience. I learned this by hearing, more than once, the middle-aged woman sitting behind me utter to her friend "he's very good looking." Someone's still feeling saucy since finishing 50 Shades of Grey

A special shout-out must go to Brian McOmber for his score. It’s heavy in the string department, but nothing too over-the-top. Very subdued and melancholy while at the same time striking an ominous vibe. Other times there is a heavy percussive influence that I absolutely love. Makes sense that I know find out McObmber is not only a composer but a drummer as well. He used to be involved with the Dirty Projectors, if you’re into that sort of thing. 

Whether you want to see this for the suspense aspect, the torrid affair, or the subject matter in general you will not be disappointed. This is a small scale film with a lot of power behind it in all the right places. I really hope to see more from Burdge and Fidell, they're definitely on my radar.

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