DIRECTOR: Benjamin Arfmann
WRITER: Brian McAuley
Lucas Ward is an honour student. When one of his teachers gives him a B+ on one of his papers. Lucas begins concocting a scheme to ruin the teacher's career but as both situations start to spiral out of control and his teacher starts to match Lucas at every step of the way. Things become increasingly hostile between the pair, and Lucas ends up trying to destroy his teacher's life. At what lengths will he go to, to make sure Mr Butler suffers for good.
High School is a difficult time for everyone. Not only are you trying to secure a good grade in hopes that you will have a good life when you leave school, but you're also navigating your way through an institution that feels like this vast field of landmines. It's a struggle to know who your real friends are, there is a likely possibility that you will be bullied, failing grades, and trying to find your identity and a place in the world. High school is not always a fun place to be. If you survive those six years, you'll have likely been to hell and back.
It must not be any more comfortable for a teacher. You show up five days a week to teach kids who don't really want to be there. They are there out of obligation. There are threats of danger and violence, teenagers fighting with each other, and you will never really know if you're getting through to the people that you are tasked with to inspire and teach. This is what Mr Butler, our main character is going through here in Dismissed. He's a teacher that is at a crossroads in his life. It's not until Lucas Ward our second main character is transferred to his class does he see some hope.
Dismissed runs at a very swift eighty-seven minutes, so things between our teacher and student escalate incredibly quick. This story moves at such a fast pace that it's never once boring. I never once found myself staring at my watch thinking that the movie was lagging or slow. I think some viewers would describe this as a slow-burn thriller, but for me, this goes from one escalated sequence to the next, and I never found it dull. I think had this story been any longer or drawn out more, the movie may have started to wear thin and outstay its welcome.
Another winning element of Dismissed is the central performance of Dylan Sprouse. Here he plays a deranged student who is hellbent on securing his perfect grades and his chance to get into his dream college, Harvard. It takes only minutes of him being onscreen for us to sense that something is not quite right with him. A jock threatens him and immediately regrets his decision when Lucas responds to him with a threat about puncturing his jugular with a pencil. Things just get increasingly violent from that point on. Dylan Sprouse is a great sociopath. He carries the film.
My biggest issue with Dismissed falls back on the other central performance of Kent Osborne who plays Mr Butler. From the very first moment that he is on screen, I just didn't feel at all emotionally invested or connected to his struggling teacher character. As things begin to escalate, I found myself enjoying what Dylan Sprouse was doing to the teacher but not the other way around. I just found that Kent Osborne's character was very bland here. He is essentially overshadowed by a much better performance and it sort of ruins any connection we may have to his character.
Where I think people will have a lot of fun with the film is Lucas trying to incriminate his teacher for the first and second acts of the movie. We see him chemically blind a fellow student because he is the right choice for chess captain. He convinces a female student to come onto Mr Butler, he blackmails his teacher. These moments feel like a cat and mouse game. The tone and atmosphere during these scenes feel very similar to The Good Son. I was eating it up. There comes the point in the movie where things become increasingly dark and mean-spirited that it sort of spirals out of control and goes off the rails.
The third act is where the movie lost considerable points for me. Some moments take a character past gleefully deranged into a territory that they are unable to come back from. While I didn't connect with our teacher Mr Butler. I didn't want to see his family harmed. So giving an honour student a B+ grade warrants them strangling his wife to death? It feels almost cruel. I understand where they were going with it, but the next few minutes are wrapped up so quickly, it feels rushed. It didn't feel anything like the rest of the film. It's almost out of place.
Lastly, we come to the suspense of the film. I think Dismissed successfully has a few moments up its sleeve. I think the more quiet moments of Lucas Ward expressing his rage are where we witness his sociopathic tendencies really do shine. I feel that first-time director Benjamin Arfmann captures these through slow-mo techniques. There is a scene on a school roof that slowly builds, and while I knew that it was coming, I see some promise in this filmmaker. I would like to see him tackle something with a much bigger budget and scarier to see what he does with it.
DEATH TOLL: 2
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A chemical explosion hits a student in the eyes.
- A teenage girl is thrown off of a school roof.
- A woman is strangled to death.
- A teenage boy is hit in the face with a glass apple.
- A teenage boy is seen with a split eyebrow and bleeding.
Dismissed has a few really solid elements going for it. First and foremost, we have a standout performance from Dylan Sprouse as a deranged sociopath who takes his B+ grade a bit too far. The movie is also short and sweet which makes it never dull. The story isn't without its problems though, and that stems from a central character who we don't feel emotionally invested in and a third act that feels as rushed as it appears mean-spirited. It's worth the watch just to see Dylan Sprouse let loose but this story feels more like a midday movie than something made for a theatrical release.