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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Bad Genius is a razor-sharp thriller that delivers edge-of-your seat tension whilst dealing with the moral dilemmas associated with exploiting loopholes and cheating on exams. The lead characters are all seventeen-year-olds in their final year of high school, but their scheme, a combination of get-rich-quick scam and an attempt to score a coveted American college offer, plays out like a dramatic and high-octane heist film.
What starts out as a way for the titular “genius” high school student Lynn to help her rich but unknowledgeable friend Grace quickly transforms into a money making scheme as word of her morally-questionable abilities spreads. With each new job, the stakes (and profits) are raised, culminating in the ultimate assignment: to cheat on the international STIC (SAT) exam. To complete the million-dollar task, Lynn must fly to Sydney to sit the exam and deliver the answers back to her classmates in Thailand before it takes place there.
The film supplies a fresh take on the frenemy formula as Lynn and her classmate Bank clash on intellectual as well as ethical grounds, while awkwardly falling for one another. By the time the two take off to Sydney, the richly layered screenplay has ratcheted up enormous stakes through a complex web of motives, from money and misguided loyalty to one-upmanship and the urge to rebel against educational establishment.
Ultimately Bad Genius is not about exam cheating, but class divide. As the film progresses it becomes increasingly clear that the labour of one group is being used to elevate the status of the other – mirroring the situation in the classroom and Thailand more broadly.
Thanks to charismatic lead performances and some very effective visual direction, the film has become an unexpected international hit. It’s clever, it’s faced paced and exhilarating.