A brutal tale of injustice, corruption and alliance in one of the world’s most notorious boys correctional facilities. King of Devil’s Island is gripping and refuses to let go until it’s epic conclusion.
Based on a true story, set in 1915, the film follows the lives of a group of boys banished to the prison-island of Bastøy (Devil’s Island) off the coast of Norway. The majority of boys here are more victims of circumstance than hardened criminals, with various minor offenses landing them an extended stay at the facility.
They are made to work on the island’s farm, clean latrines and chop wood during the day as well as attend lessons like reading and writing class. However, for all the spiel that the outside world is given about rehabilitation, the boys see a much darker side to the institution. Brutal punishments like beatings and solitary confinement are given for the slightest infringement of the rules.
There is a particular focus on Erling (Benjamin Helstad), a new arrival who sees the island with a fresh pair of eyes. On arrival his head is shaved and he is made to walk naked through the ranks of prisoners. He quickly discovers that the dream of escape is near impossible and that the authority is rife with corruption.
Ivar (Magnus Langlete), another new boy is quickly identified as a weak link and is selected by Bråthen, the Housemaster, for special laundry duty. Erling and the other boys soon discover the truth behind this, galvanizing their friendships as they attempt to protect poor Ivar. This results in an all-out rebellion against the Governor (Stellan Skarsgård) and other figures of Bastøy’s authority in the lead up to the film’s extremely tense and dramatic conclusion.
King of Devil’s Island is incredibly well acted, with Stellan Skarsgård (The Avengers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) putting in a brilliant, authoritative performance as the Governor of Bastøy. The majority of the other cast members are largely unknown but all proved genuinely convincing, making you feel the weight of the hardships and repression that they faced.
The artistic vision in this film was also faultless, with camera work serving only to highlight just how bleak the island facility is, giving us insight as to what it might be like to actually be there, carrying rocks, bare-hand in minus 10 degree blizzards. The sound also complemented the film perfectly, capturing the emotion and hardship of the protagonists. A melancholy composition that never once felt out of place.
The Sum Up
Bleak, brutal and deeply moving. King of Devil’s Island will captivate you for the entirety of it’s two hour duration. It presents you with a group of characters that you become very attached to, with your concern growing as events unfold. As well as others like Housemaster that you grow to despise, while you plot and fantasise about their downfall.
On occasion with a film that is subtitled, it can be difficult to connect with characters and events as you miss slight facial nuances whilst reading the text. That was not the case here as the acting was so superb, you often knew exactly what the characters were thinking and saying without translation.
The more popular pages have called this film “Spartacus with snow”, but these in no way do the film justice. This is world-cinema at its best; its torrent of injustice will harpoon you straight through the heart and leave you thinking long after the credits have rolled.King of Devil’s Island is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 29 October 2012.