"At no point during the King Of Devil's Island is the audience rewarded with a sense of warmth, the film both in its story as well as its landscape is cold, harsh and unforgiving"
At no point during the King Of Devil's Island is the audience rewarded with a sense of warmth, the film both in its story as well as its landscape is cold, harsh and unforgiving. A perfect film for a hot summers day!
Set in 1915, Bastøy Island in Norway is the location of a correctional facility for troubled young boys. Through a combination of rigorous labour and strong Christian values the boys have to earn their freedom, and this decision lies with the Governor of the facility played with steely maleficence by the always brilliant Stellen Skarsgaard.
The film opens as two new inmates are delivered to Bastøy, only one of them has been sent to the island under more unsettling circumstances as we find out he is guilty of murder and it soon transpires he has no intention of staying on the island. Erling or C19 as he's appointed in the facility wastes no time at all in causing trouble, getting into fights and planning his escape.
The rest of the film charts the events leading up to a shocking uprising within the facility led by C19 who becomes something of an alpha male amongst his peers and culminates in an ending that is both touching and tragic, made even more so by the fact the whole incident is based on a true story. For my money, it is the young cast that really make this film what it is, especially the captivating performance by Benjamin Helstad who plays C19.
I read that the majority of the young actors were picked because they themselves came from troubled backgrounds, including Helstad which really lends itself to the dynamic of the film, and you can see it on some of their faces, these aren't fresh faced handsome young Hollywood actors, there is a real sense that these kids have been through hell in some form or another.
C19 becomes a sort of anti hero in the film, ultimately it is the boys you start to root for as the facility reveals itself to be less of a rehabilitation centre and more of a prison, but C19 turns into a figure of hope for the boys.
The film deals with many other themes, it's not just a prison break movie. The young boy who arrives with C19 doesn't adapt quite as well, he becomes a victim of bullying amongst the other boys, initially he finds some protection from Housemaster Brathen, although it turns out Brathen isn't exactly the saviour he thought he was.
The film handles the issues of molestation and sexual abuse in a very quiet, behind closed doors kind of way, although we never see anything distressing or shocking it's very evident it's taking place. Brathen, played by Kristoffer Joner, delivers an expert performance in playing someone who we as an audience really start to hate, he truly is an evil man who dishes out corporal punishment and half rations without even blinking. The Governer, although tough and strict, ultimately is a man of god who genuinely believes he is doing good for these boys, you can tell he cares about them, even more so when he learns of Brathens alleged behaviour.
The final act of the film is a complete power shift in authority, as the boys lead their uprising against their oppressors. It is a lord of the flies esque scene as for the first time in many years these boys experience freedom, ransacking classrooms and kitchens for food, it's a mad scrabble but ultimately a pointless one as soon enough the military are called in to contain the mess.
All in all, despite clocking in at a little over 2 hours which for some people might be a little daunting, 2 hours of Norwegian subtitles, I honestly suggest you stay with the film and see it to its conclusion because it is a remarkable story, and beautifully directed by Marius Holst who creates a real restrained work of beauty. Visually the film is almost a prison as well, the cold harsh winter conditions that surround you and practically permeate your skin as you watch it. With a truly exceptional cast of both seasoned and up and coming actors, combined with a gripping story, King Of Devil's Island is a must see.