By Don Simpson | April 10, 2012
Director: Marius Holst
Writers: Lars Saabye Christensen (story), Dennis Magnusson (screenplay), Eric Schmid (screenplay), Mette M. Bølstad (story)
Starring: Stellan Skarsgård, Benjamin Helstad, Kristoffer Joner, Trond Nilssen, Morten Løvstad, Daniel Berg, Odin Gineson Brøderud, Magnar Botten, Magnus Langlete, Agnar Jeger Holst, Tommy Jakob Håland
It is the fall of 1915 when a pair of teenage boys fatefully arrive by boat to the secluded Bastøy Island, home to the Bastøy Residential School where the long-term goal is to unearth the honorable and useful Christian boys buried deep inside the maladjusted adolescents. Torturous tactics such as isolation, caning and hard labor (made increasingly difficult by the harsh Norwegian winter) are believed — at least according to the island’s Governor, Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgård) — to promote reformation; yet this seems to be a long and winding road, because many of the offenders spend the entirety of their teenage years on the island.
One of the new boys, Erling (Benjamin Helstad) is a brooding and volatile teen who has been accused of killing someone. The past and future do not matter at Bastøy, so we never learn any details if Erling’s history; but his face bears the scars of a brutal police beating. The other new boy, Ivar (Magnus Langlete), is so scrawny and timid it is difficult to imagine that he has ever dared to do anything illegal. While Erling fearlessly stands up to his peers and guardians alike, Ivar’s meekness makes him prime fodder for a certain pedophile.
Erling has one thing on his mind — escape — until he learns that one of the guardians is sexually molesting Ivar. Erling joins forces with the Governor-ordained student leader, Olav (Trond Nilssen) — who despite being on the verge of freedom, risks his life for the safety of his fellow classmates. The question remains what prompts these two boys to give up their chances at leaving Bastøy Island for the greater good?
King of Devil’s Island functions as a Lord of the Flies-esque saga that has been adapted from the true story of a student uprising that occurred on Bastøy Island, when a powder keg of pent up adolescent rage erupted and the coup d’état had to be diffused by the Norwegian army. Marius Holst’s film has been criticized for its use of overly used, emotion-tugging narrative tropes — sexual abuse, suicide, prison escapes — but King of Devil’s Island is incredibly unique in its lack of exposition, discomforting tone and creation of a foreboding world (which is further accented by John Andreas Andersen’s bleak, near-colorless cinematography). The barren landscape near the frozen Skagerrak Strait plays a menacing role in this story — creating a natural environment that is even more punishing than the school’s guardians. Bastøy Island is essentially a frozen version of hell, that is clearly not suitable for human existence; but like the whale in Erling’s daydreams, the boys of Bastøy continue to survive despite the inhumane punishment they endure.
Film Movement recently released King of Devil’s Island on DVD.