evil foreign films

Evil (Ondskan)
Made in: Sweden
Language: Swedish
Based on the novel by Jan Guillou
Director: Mikael Håfström
Starring: Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundström, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jesper Salén, Linda Zilliacus, Marie Richardson, Johan Rabaeus, Per Westergren
Year: 2003

Synopsis: The year is 1959. Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson) is a troubled teenager living with an abusive stepfather (Johan Rabaeus) and caring, but helpless mother (Marie Richardson). He gets decent grades, is a talented swimmer, and has a strong sense of morality. But his turbulent home life causes him to lash out at school, and he often gets into bad fist-fights.

When he's finally expelled, Erik is given one last chance. He's sent to Stjärnsberg, a prestigious private boarding school, where he'll have an opportunity to get into college as long as he doesn't get kicked out again.

At first, Stjärnsberg appears to be a nice place. Everyone seems pretty well behaved and Erik befriends his kind roommate, a brainy and pudgy fellow named Pierre Tanguy (Henrik Lundtröm). But brewing underneath the posh environment's surface is an ugly reality.

Soon, Erik learns that Stjärnsberg's upperclassmen, led by Otto Silverhielm (Gustaf Skarsgård) and his flunkie, Dahlén (Jesper Salén), routinely abuse the younger students in the name of "maintaining order." For ages, the violence has been tacitly sanctioned by the school officials, who simply look the other way.

The things Silverhielm and Dahlén come up with go far beyond hazing or bullying; it's borderline sociopathic in its cruelty.

Erik refuses to bow to Silverhielm's ridiculous treatment, and becomes the frequent target of the older boy's wrath. But at the same time, he's determined not to get into the same sort of trouble that got him expelled last time.

As the year drags on, Erik wages a campaign of individual rebellion. In doing so, he not only begins to understand the deeply rooted problems of the boarding school or his stepfather, but he also comes to discover the greater evil that exists all around us.

The Good: Evil is a very compelling, intense drama. Neither pretentious nor boring, the film does an excellent job in addressing the disturbing, but subtle propensity for wrongdoing that exists in everyone.

Director Mikael Håfström cleverly points out that society's most destructive individuals will never grow up to become criminals. Instead, they may very well be the ones that society expects the most from. It's a pretty familiar theme, yet Evil is so focused and well-written that the message is very moving.

The cast, led by Andreas Wilson, is excellent, too. Each of the roles are distinct, and all the characters are very well-developed. Another strong element lies within the psychological motivations of the protagonists, as the complexities of everyone's personalities are addressed.

And if you get drawn into Evil while watching it (and I suspect most of you will), you'll find that the film is great at sparking strong, genuine emotional reactions to bullying. You'll feel connected to the anger that Erik feels, as Håfström assumes (correctly so) that we've all experienced, or at least witnessed, a similar injustice before.

The Bad: Not much to complain about at all. I just thought the romance between Andreas Wilson and the leading lady (Linda Zilliacus) was a little too rushed.

Who would like this movie: The Oscar-nominated Evil is for you if you like foreign films, coming of age dramas, underdog stories, and messages about the strength of the human condition. Sure, it's in Swedish, but the story is universal and highly realistic.

Thematically, it might make you think of a darker, more serious version of Animal House. But of all the boarding school, "snobby-rich-kids vs. poorer-misunderstood-kids" stories out there, I'd have to say Evil outshines most, if not all of them. This is one of those "hidden gem" foreign films that I would recommend to any avid filmgoer.

(3 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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