Review: 'A Teacher'

This review was originally published on January 19, 2013 as part of's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. 

We all know that this can't end well. By day, Diana (Lindsay Burdge) is a well-liked teacher of AP English Lit, but at night, she's carrying on with one of her students, Eric (Will Brittain). Writer/director Hannah Fidell tries to take this simple situation and wring real drama out of it over the course of "A Teacher," but more often than not, we're simply left waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Fidell ("We're Glad You're Here") allows the camera to hover close to and often behind Diana as she carries on everyday conversations with colleagues that leave her uncomfortable or paranoid, an approach that proves intimate whenever she meets up with her young lover. Fidell and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo share a Fincher-level fondness for dark spaces, and the discordant score by Brian McOmber evokes the Johnny Greenwood/Paul Thomas Anderson collaborations of late.

All of it combines to form an oppressive, almost predatory mood, as Diana is torn between adult responsibility and a more carnal longing, but Fidell's screenplay runs thin on characterization (the film only runs 75 minutes). Given the decision to start the story when Diana and Eric are already together, that lack of a tentative, hopeful, dangerous beginning weakens the inevitable heartache that comes in the end, and it doesn't help that Fidell sees fit to cap things with an all-too-ironic closing credits song.

As such, Burdge is left to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of inviting the audience into her protagonist's shaky state, and her performance boasts a remarkable emotional precision throughout — if ever there's a reason to seek this one out, it would be for her. For his part, Brittain does a commendable job of balancing teenage arrogance and appeal. However, the narrative feels assembled from spare vignettes, strung together with countless shots of slow-motion jogging whenever Diana tries (and fails) to clear her head.

It's a character study composed of small strokes, allergic to the melodramatic tendencies of the comparable "Notes on a Scandal." That film didn't shy away from well-established motives and desires, though, and if it weren't for the grip of its leading lady, "A Teacher" might have ultimately proven too inscrutable to make the grade.

SCORE: 6.0 / 10