This film was something very different for me not only in terms of the genre but also because it’s Norwegian and subtitled films are not usually my first choice (although Pan’s Labyrinth swayed me a little on that matter.)
Described as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Lord of the Flies”, King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastøy) is set in the early 20th Century at the Bastøy prison for youths.
Based on a true story, the film documents the arrival of a new inmate, the lengths he is willing to go to attain freedom and the uprising that evolves from his actions.
The film is raw, hard-hitting and brutal. It is very emotive and very interesting. The story captured my attention from the beginning and throughout I was desperate to see what happened next and to know how it was going to end.
I think it’s fair to say I was mesmerized from start to finish and experienced a whirlwind of emotions.
The brutality of the regime the boys face make it very easy to form an emotional connection to the characters and that includes the hatred that quickly forms towards the oppressors.
Interestingly, the majority of the cast were unknown and selected based on their authentic appearance to bring the film to life.
I was surprised by this as the acting was sensational, especially from the group of boys. Trond Nilssen especially stunned me with his performance and Benjamin Helstad was also fantastic.
The film also starred Stellan Skarsgård who I was surprised to learn is Swedish, as I have only seen him in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Thor, The Avengers and Mamma Mia. The man has a very convincing American accent!
He played his role brilliantly as with the others I’ve seen him in. This role especially was wonderful to watch him play because the character is complex and I kept changing my mind as to how I felt about him. Skarsgard is certainly an actor that I am going to take more notice of from now on.
Credit too should go to Kristoffer Joner purely for being so terrifying. I always feel a little bit sorry for actors who have to play truly horrible characters but then that’s usually a measure of how good they are at their job and so I always gain respect for them quickly.
The characters generally are intriguing as each of them caused such conflicting emotions depending on each situation; none of them are straightforward.
The film tests moral boundaries and in my case personal judgement about what is justified and what isn’t. It scrutinizes human nature, focusing on the best and worst of it. It truly makes you think and every aspect evokes strong feelings.
Parts of the film are unsurprisingly terrifying, but knowing it would be horrific did nothing to diminish the fear and intensity that was created.
The music was fitting; it was very depressing but obviously, that was the point! Though bleak and eerie, the setting of the film is hauntingly beautiful as well, just like the story itself. It’s a very serious film so you have to be in the right mood for it, but it’s definitely worth it.
I was intrigued by the trailer and hopefully you will be too. If you’re not convinced by that alone, I should stress that the film was much better than I’d anticipated; there is definitely more to it than meets the eye.
King of Devil’s Island has just been released on DVD and if the story appeals to you like it did me, it is not something to miss, particularly if you enjoy History and/or social commentary.