Home > Entertainment > Review: ‘The School For Good and Evil’ is an unbearable cringe-fest
Review: ‘The School For Good and Evil’ is an unbearable cringe-fest

A stacked cast and flashy visuals aren’t enough to save Netflix’s new fantasy film, The School For Good and Evil

The shadow of Harry Potter looms large over film adaptations of young adult novels, and there have been plenty over the years with varying success. Twilight and The Hunger Games were able to make multiple movies and were generally received well while others like Eragon have been completely forgotten. It’s hard not to be reminded of Harry Potter in The School For Good and Evil because, well, there’s magic and a school involved. Netflix’s new fantasy film tries to be its own thing, but though the filmmakers’ hearts may be in the right place, the effort was… well, disastrous.

school for good and evil
Sophia Anne Caruso as Sophie and Sofia Wylie as Agatha (Image credit: Gilles Mingasson/Netflix © 2022)

The School For Good and Evil: It’s a mess

The School For Good and Evil is based on a series of novels by Soman Chainani. The books themselves, six in total, have been on the New York Times Best Seller list. I’ve never read any of them but clearly the books are successful and have an audience. The gist: fairy tales are real, and its heroes and villains go to—you guessed it—the School for Good and Evil, where they learn hero/villain stuff, stuff like learning how to smile for girls who are Good (seriously) and how to be ugly for those who are Evil because apparently, ugly is powerful. I think you already have an idea of where this is going: a story all about breaking away from the status quo of “good” or “bad” except unlike High School Musical, they don’t do it through song. It might have actually been better if they did.

The film, which is based on the first book, follows two best friends: Agatha (Sofia Wylie), the only person who has common sense throughout the whole film, and Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso), the wanna-be princess who thinks she’s all that. You might already catch a hint of the usual high school archetypes, and they’re all here in glorious two-dimensional characters that have the depth of a kiddie pool: Agatha is the supposedly “ugly” girl who everyone despises but becomes the hero and gets the jock; the jock, in this instance, is King Arthur’s son, who makes his entrance swinging from a balcony and sliding on the floor like one does; Sophie is the seemingly goody-two shoes, but it’s easy to spot the girl has issues from the get-go; and then there’s the bullies, the jock’s jealous girlfriend, and the nerdy kid, who happens to be the son of Prince Charming. 

school for good and evil
Sofia Wylie as Agatha and Sophia Anne Caruso as Sophie (Image credit: Helen Sloan/Netflix © 2022)

The two best friends are thrown into the school after Sophie wishes to leave her mundane life, but they reckon there’s a mistake because Sophie is put into the School of Evil and Agatha is put into the School of Good. Stereotypes be damned, this is a fantasy film for the modern era! They, of course, protest, forcing themselves to meet the School Master, played by Laurence Fishburne who I think was just there for the paycheck (I don’t blame him). He tells them they’ll only be able to get home if Sophie, who is categorised as Evil now, is able to get true love’s first kiss. I know, shocker.

Okay, to be fair, I admit that the concept of the story is original and interesting. There was a chance to make something of substance here and maybe even make meta-commentary on how people are put into boxes and told that this is what they’re meant to do in life and nothing else. Even director Paul Feig said he wanted to tackle real issues, citing how the world now operates on an “us vs. them” mindset. Maybe he was coming from that place genuinely, but it seems that all that has been discarded to make way for flashy CGI, high school drama, and horrible writing. There are things in this movie called “wish fish”, “doom room”, and “finger glow” (not a euphemism, I swear). “Call your squirrel friends,” says one of the characters during the movie. Riveting.

Surprisingly, the movie boasts quite a cast—who end up playing caricatures. The aforementioned Laurence Fishburne, who plays the School Master, is just… there. There’s Kerry Washington playing Professor Dovey (I don’t know, don’t ask me) who in her own right is a terrific but is the epitome of cringe here. At one point, she is shocked someone Evil betrayed her—because Evil people don’t do that, right? Charlize Theron is Lady Lesso, and she tries her best to make the character at least have a semblance of depth, but to no avail. And then there’s Michelle Yeoh who plays Professor… Anemone. That should tell you enough.

school for good and evil
Michelle Yeoh as Professor Anemone, Charlize Theron as Lady Lesso and Kerry Washington as Professor Dovey (Image credit: Helen Sloan / Netflix © 2022)

And if it’s not the dialogue or the names that make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat as The Human Centipede, it’s the head-scratching sequences overlaid with pop music. You’ve never seen a makeover entrance until Billie Eilish’s You Should See Me In A Crown plays in the background, and a battle is only epic if a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic is playing during the fight, even if it’s just a bunch of teenagers going at it. 

With 30 minutes left in the film, I found myself desperately longing for salvation that I decided to skip ahead through parts. The ending was as predicted, and lo and behold, it was open-ended for a possible sequel. I admire the filmmakers’ positive thinking. We need more of that in the world.

I think it’s clear what I think of the movie, but if for some reason it’s still not registering, here’s my tweet.


Review: ‘The School For Good and Evil’ is an unbearable cringe-fest

Eric E. Surbano

Eric can be found lost in his own world jamming with headphones on while writing when he's not prepping for a DnD session or researching 'Star Wars' galactic history on Wookiepedia. A proud Ravenclaw, he loves playing (and writing about) video games, humming the 'Doctor Who' theme under his breath, and rewatching 'Friends', 'New Girl', and 'The West Wing'.


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