King of Devil’s Island Norwegian Film Review

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)

Unrated

In Norwegian with subtitles.

Running time: 120 minutes

Distributor: Film Movement

To see a trailer for King of Devil’s Island:

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Sadly, Lloyd Kam Williams passed away in 2019, leaving behind a huge body of work focused on America’s black entertainment community. We were as sad to hear of his passing as we were overjoyed to have him as part of our team.