Part thriller and part drama, Tamika Miller’s Honor Student grips the viewer for the full 82 minutes. The film demonstrates her ability as a writer, director, and producer to captivate and potentially educate an audience for the film's duration. Honor Student stands out for its exceptional creativity, displayed through expertly crafted cinematography. The talented cast delivers deep, moving performances, skillfully bringing the poignant story to life. Miller's range as a director shines through in every scene, leaving a lasting impact on the viewer. Miller has rightfully earned the title of "Director to Watch" through her exceptional directing abilities, with Honor Student cementing the acclamation.
While currently in an epidemic of school shootings and gun violence, the film highlights the nonlinear thinking one employs before rationalizing such an event. Make no mistake--this is a film about a school shooting, but it is also so much more than that. Miller's script reveals that this event can happen anywhere to anyone. As a prolific advocate for women and racial injustices, Miller is knowledgeable about her main characters' internal and external struggles and has successfully created three-dimensional characters that are more than just the after-school-special characters used to teach the dangers of gun violence.
Honor Student takes place primarily in a classroom after class as a new take on a portmanteau, yet the confined space creates a sense of heightened tension necessary for such a film. The film delves deep into the complex psyche of a teenager determined to make his voice heard, even if it means resorting to extreme measures. There is rarely a moment where the viewer feels relaxed during this film; the volleying dialogue centered around the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of Jeremy’s ultimate decision is equally realistic as it is terrifying.
The intense plot revolves around the harrowing experience of a school shooting, which brings to the forefront a range of emotions such as sorrow, desperation, and fear. The movie's central characters, Jeremy Chue (Hudson Young) and Mrs. Hill (Kelly Jenrette), are performed with great depth and sensitivity, making the narrative all the more gripping and realistic. From the start, we are meant to believe that Jeremy Chue should have it all: excellent grades, an affluent family, and the ability to attend an elite private school. He is far from the dark, brooding, loner-type teenager typically seen as the school shooter. Yet, as the film progresses, we soon learn that Jeremy recently lost his twin brother to a mass shooting and is under extreme pressure from his family to succeed academically. Mrs. Hill is the counterpart of this film, a single mother who teaches English at the high school. She is the teacher students can go to with anything, making herself available to her pupils even if it means running late to her appointments. Her welcoming nature and kind disposition are what every high school student needs in a teacher, yet they may prove to be her fatal flaw.
Throughout the film, references to legislative gun reforms and gun violence prevention organizations are abundant yet do not draw attention away from the plot. From Jeremy's ironic "Gun Violence Prevention" poster to references of lawmakers and NRA lobbyists, the film demonstrates a deep understanding of the social and political responsibility surrounding mass shootings. During the 82 minutes, many questions arise: What does it take for something like this to happen? What is a teacher's role in the shooting? And how much more needs to happen before the proper laws are in place to prevent such an event?
Honor Student screens at the Fall 2023 New Jersey Film Festival on Sunday, September 10. The film will be Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 5 PM in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ. Honor Student Director Tamika Miller will be doing a Q+A after the in-person screening! Tickets are available for purchase here.