Movie Reviews by Toby White and Almiro Jorge
Starring: Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundstrom, Gustaf Skarsgard, Linda Zilliacus
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Review by Toby White
It’s an odd, almost worrying, feeling when you go through a phase of seeing terrible film after terrible film and you start to despair as to whether anything you see will raise your hopes in moviedom. Well, after a glut of turkeys (I won’t mention them), salvation came in the unlikeliest of packages. A Swedish offering about boarding school life in the 50s.
Based on Sweden’s best-selling book (hear me out) of the last 20 years, EVIL (or “Menace”, I understand, to give ONDSKAN its more literal translation) is a mesmerising rites of passage portrayal of a young man’s struggle against the oppressive brutality of a boy-run boarding school. Admittedly the premise doesn’t sound too original; another reprobate teenager sent off to a private school to learn discipline of a different sort to the ineffective thrashings by his abusive stepfather, but it’s the execution that’s fantastic. How Erik (brilliantly played by newcomer Andreas Wilson) challenges the archaic system refusing (quite rightly) to comply with the repressed leaders of the single-minded student council is gripping stuff. Something of a metamorphosis happens watching this film. Initially, one’s slightly sceptical about this guy, he’s just another reprobate kid that you don’t really side with. But his character’s arc, helped along by his only friend, the dining hall serving girl and the sports teacher, really brings you on side and is sewn together with some brilliantly constructed set-pieces. If this film had pages, you’d be hard-pressed not to keep turning. What’s more, it’s based on the author’s own experiences.
Comparisons will undoubtedly surface with films like F…, SCHOOL TIES, even DEAD POETS SOCIETY but what makes EVIL stand out is its sheer believability, ironically, in the face of its seemingly more plausible predecessors. It doesn’t have the fantasy of IF, the mawkishness of DEAD POETS or the Hollywood indulgence of the cliche-ridden SCHOOL TIES. There’s nothing fluffy about this film. There are no sweeping crane shots, no fancy lighting, no throw away lines, there’s no plot spoon-feeding and not a drop of a saccharine-fuelled love story subplot in sight. It’s just sheer, rough-round-the-edges, in-your-face drama and it’s liberating to watch. Thank heaven for storytelling cinema.
Review by Almiro Jorge
“The evil that men do lives after them…”
Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson) has had more than his fair share of brawls as a consequence of the endurance of beatings he has received from his stepfather. His violent attitude results in an expulsion from his local school to which the headmaster calls him “pure evil”. Erik’s mother sells the last of her heirlooms to send him away to an expensive private school in Stjärnsberg – the only school willing to accept him – and the only way for him to graduate to upper school.
In his new surroundings, Erik is determined to get it right this time but not being able to be humble has its disadvantages. Turning a blind eye to the goings on, the teachers let the fraternities run the school. Trying to resist the urge to get upset as the senior rich kids target Erik from his arrival only makes them try harder to make him crack. Erik’s plan of dedication to academics finally has to falter.
The title of this film is deceptive in that it gives you the idea that it is a horror. Based on an autobiographical novel by Jan Guillou, EVIL is essentially a knock at the fascist movement in the 50s in Sweden. The plot duly runs hand in hand with REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, constantly referencing it literally and figuratively: Erik is an allusion to the iconic James Dean.
The realism of the performances is chilling. Although a newcomer to the big screen, Andreas Wilson’s performance is nothing short of exceptional in his role as a young man trying to segregate himself from his violent nature.
Director, Mikael Håfström, masterfully engineers a gradual increase in tension throughout the film. Evoking our emotions of trepidation with dramatic montage of Erik’s mother’s piano solos, Håfström succeeds in alluding Chopin to a severe beating. But undoubtedly the pinnacle of the feature is the beautiful cinematography by Peter Mokrosinski that is effectively intertwined with a striking dramatic score.
This emotionally inspired film, which is directed in true Swedish style, is a must-see for mainstream and foreign-film lovers alike. A warning: there are some scenes of violence, and although they are not overly graphic, they may make you feel uneasy.