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King of Devil's Island (DVD Review)

5 Apr, 2012 By: Billy Gil

Street 4/10/12
Film Movement
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
In Norwegian with English subtitles.
Stars Stellan Skarsgård.

King of Devil’s Island explores the concept that you can only push people so far before something gives.

In the film, wayward boys in early 20th century Norway are taken to an island complex headed by a stern governor (Stellan Skarsgård) and his pack of underlings, including a cruel housemaster who delivers corporal punishment and hard labor for any offense. The cold, orderly labor camp is disrupted by the arrival of 17-year-old Erling (Benjamin Helstad), who is rumored to have murdered someone.

Erling, redubbed as “C-19,” as the boys are called by their bunk number like robots, immediately clashes with both authorities and other boys as he struggles to escape, but is thwarted at every attempt. He takes on a protective role to young Ivar, or C-5, with whom he arrives at Bastøy Island, and soon gains the respect of other boys, when he actually gets away from the camp before being retrieved and brought back. 

When a heinous act leads to a tragedy, the authorities try to cover it up as inspectors come to pay a visit. A breaking point is near for Erling and the others.

Skarsgård underplays the governor, making all the more effective those moments when he unleashes the bitter sneer that has made him effective at being detestable in films from Dogville to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Helstad is highly affecting as the brute with the heart of gold, charismatic to the point of even endearing himself to the authorities whom he defies. Even as the boys’ fate seems predestined, director Marius Holst lets some light in, and you can’t help but root for them. Holst doesn’t miss a note in King of Devil’s Island, as the icy landscape and even more chilling story and performances hit you to the bone.

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