The School for Good and Evil (2022)

     

Based on a best-selling young adult series, The School for Good and Evil will please the teen crowd, but doesn't have much to offer adults.

 

They could not be more different from one another, and yet they grow up as best friends. Agatha (Sofia Whylie) is fiercely opinionated, fiery, and loyal, a down-to-earth girl whose mother says she has a special gift. But being strange and not caring at all for her appearance has made her an outcast in the community, where the other kids taunt her as being a witch. Her best friend Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso), however, is all about appearances. She's vain, ambitious, and wants to become a princess, so she believes in a mythical place called the School for Good and Evil, which once in a great while sends out a messenger to fetch away girls who have true magical potential. One night, this creature comes for Sophie--but Agatha, fearing something horrible awaits on the other end of the journey, latches onto her. Away they fly through the night sky, until the bird dumps them at the school.

 

Only something is wrong. Agatha has landed in the Good School, a place that creates princesses... and Sophie has been dumped in the hideous grounds of the Evil School, where you're not allowed to kill your classmates until after you graduate, but all kinds of nastiness is encouraged. While Agatha suffers through hideous lessons on being beautiful and has to wear pretty dresses that she hates, Sophie resists the idea that Evil should not be beautiful and embrace its ugliness and thinks she belongs in the princess school. But everyone tells them, the Headmaster (Laurence Fishburne) does not make mistakes. If they want to change his mind, they have to prove that Sophie is truly pure of heart. And if they fail to pass their grades, something awful happens to them. They aren't expelled. They ... disappear. But even that, Agatha finds out, is not the entire story, and they are in a place that doesn't believe in happily ever after. Not entirely.

 

I'm not sure whether Netflix obtained the rights to this book series, or they purchased the film as a result of the pandemic, but there's a good argument here that despite being two and a half hours long, it would have made a better miniseries if the former is the truth. There's so much rich potential for this world, its barely-there side characters, and especially the teachers and their convoluted histories, that it doesn't seem like enough time to do them justice. I liked the ideas this film explored, about how we always see ourselves as better than we are, but what we choose to do reveals our true character. Sophie is easily seduced by power, and her prideful ambition alone makes her belong in Slytherin--oops, I mean the Evil School. She is ultimately concerned mostly for herself, whereas Agatha has a pure and generous heart that cares for other people more than herself. And there are some good moments here and there, that dig at a deeper message--like the idea of how easy it was for the villain to corrupt people into being good, simply by making them shallow. The Good School has focused on developing aesthetics for their princesses, rather than true honor or kindness. And ultimately, we find out that no one is all good or all evil.

 

I would have liked a more sinister slant with the Evil School. It takes it to a certain point, but no further--its Headmistress (Charleze Theron) is by far the most interesting character in the film, but has no development of any kind, leaving us uncertain of her motivations. It all feels a bit superficial. Instead of classes where the Evil kids learn to embrace warts, they should be learning the finer points of poisoning people. In comparison to some of Netflix's darker series of late, it seems fairly light with flashes of horrible things, such as when Agatha discovers what happens to you when you fail. The villain is truly evil, which gives the girls something to fight against. The costumes are pretty--fantasy and quirky, while the film is set in an unknown middle ages time period. But the cast is a bit under-used, there's not much chemistry between anyone involved, and the pacing is sometimes slow. I wanted more from it as an adult, but then I'm not the target audience--as a fifteen year old, I would have thought this extremely cool.

       
Sexual Content:
There's quite a lot of cleavage in period gowns, and some innuendo. One girl kisses another to save her life (offering her the kiss of true love) but it's platonic, not sexual.
 
Language:
None noticed.
 
Violence:
Kids throw rocks at Agatha and call her a witch; a man threatens to burn her. Elsewhere, a magical battle erupts at the school but with no casualties (students are thrown around, attacked, hurt by a gargoyle, etc). Agatha is forbidden to climb on the roof and a monster chases her off it. A prince hurls a blade into the heart of a magical creature, killing it.

 

Magic:

There's lots of enchantments, spells, and magic, both light and dark. The film opens with a battle between good and evil in which evil gets pushed off a cliff (or so we think; later we find out -- spoiler -- that the evil prince stabbed his own brother in the back). Students are forced into an enchanted wood where various plants can bite or kill them; they are attacked by a magical scarecrow, which has to be sliced in half before it stops coming for them; a main character dies by taking a knife meant for someone they care about, but then comes back to life with true love's kiss.

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