Revenge Flick Recounts Notorious Rebellion at Norwegian Reform School
Based on actual events, this character-driven, costume drama directed by Marius Holst recounts the harrowing, real-life ordeal of juvenile males isolated from civilization at Bastoy, a reform school located on a fjord outside Oslo, Norway. The story unfolds in the winter of 1915, which is when we find the institution being run by Warden Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgard), a disciplinarian with little tolerance for lip.
The tyrannical taskmaster exacts slave labor from each of his young delinquents and is assisted in this endeavor by a loyal staff headed by his sadistic henchman, Brathen (Kristoffer Joner). Just surviving the elements on such a frozen, godforsaken tundra would be challenging enough for any teen shipped away from home, but when you throw in the dubious prescription of rehabilitation by torture you have a quite predictable prescription for disaster.
One kid who refuses to let his soul be broken is Erling (Benjamin Helstad), aka inmate C-19, even if the mistreatment might be too much for his pal, C-5, I mean, Ivar (Magnus Langlete). So, it is no surprise that it might fall to the former to incite a revolt, and what eventually ensues might best be described as a Nordic cross of Moby Dick and Escape from Alcatraz, between the desperate, aquatic jailbreak and a profusion of whale hunt allusions.
Realistic enough to give you chills, King of Devil’s Island convincingly takes you back a century to a time when sparing the rod was definitely considered spoiling the child. Not exactly what I’d describe as a feelgood flick, but rather a bittersweet reminder that despite the debate surrounding the easy availability of Ritalin and Adderall, we’ve still come a long way from some less-enlightened methods of dealing with rebellious adolescents with attention-deficit issues.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
In Norwegian with subtitles.
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Film Movement
To see a trailer for King of Devil’s Island: