Review by Sean Boelman
An incendiary and timely thriller, Mark Jackson’s This Teacher has a lot on its mind and surprisingly manages to address most of it in a thought-provoking way. Unabashedly political, this film may alienate some viewers with its controversial nature but deserves attention nevertheless as an important work of political commentary.
The movie follows a young French-Muslim woman visting America as she has a falling out with her friend in New York State, pushing her to a seemingly remote cabin upstate where she starts to fear for her life. The plot here takes the backseat to Jackson’s political message, and he pulls no punches in his harsh indictment of American society.
The last third of the film is undeniably its most effective portion, and also the part most likely to be divisive, exploring the epidemic of Islamophobia that continues to permeate American culture. It’s a sequence that is both terrifying and heartbreaking, designed to elicit disgust from the audience in one way or the other, and it works.
Admittedly, the first two-thirds of the movie meander a bit, and even though the film is not much longer than an hour and a half, the initially aimless nature of the narrative causes it to drag. There are some unnecessary tonal shifts in the script, initially changing from a drama to a horror before settling on the thriller that it needs to be.
That said, the development of the protagonist will keep the audience invested in the story. She has a very compelling and dynamic arc, allowing the movie to succeed as a character study. Unfortunately, the supporting characters aren’t as interesting, written in an archetypal manner, presumably for political effect.
This film really leans on a strong performance from Hafsia Herzi to bring it home, and she absolutely delivers. Despite the challenging subject matter that she has to explore, she does a very good job of grounding the character and making her performance feel entirely real. Lucy Walters and Kevin Kane are also memorable in the supporting cast.
On a technical level, the movie does a very good job of making the audience feel trapped right along with the protagonist. This is particularly the case in the final act, which is set primarily in a remote cabin. Jackson brilliantly heightens the tension between the only three characters in the sequence with rapid editing and close shots.
This Teacher certainly won’t work for everyone, and the first hour or so is uneven, but the last thirty minutes make it an essential watch. It’s a film meant to challenge the audience, and challenge it does.
This Teacher hits VOD on June 9.