Evil (Ondskan)

| October 3, 2005

The film centres on the character of Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson) who gets expelled from school for beating up his fellow students and gets sent off to a boarding school where the senior boys in the sixth form take it upon themselves to dish out cruel punishment as and when they see fit–which is pretty much all the time, as it happens. So that’s nice. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Jan Guillou (surprisingly called Ondskan), it was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 for Best Foreign Film. Not an obvious choice, I’ll admit, and rather ironic on America’s part considering he found it difficult to attend because the U.S. government has him listed as a terrorist for his outspoken opinions on the U.S.-led War on Terror…sweet.
He’s shaping up to have some pretty good credentials, methinks. From such sterling stuff the film adaptation seems pretty tame in comparison. Andreas Wilson puts in a marvellous performance, however, as the put upon Erik and helps to convince us of the characters predicament and his struggle against the oppressive stuck-up bullies. Erik’s character has a rather cliché-ridden troubled home life though (father-in-law beats him for any minor backchat while mother ignores it by playing piano) but Wilson brings him to life with all the macho posturing and sullen looks that the role demands and a handsome fella he is, too. Perhaps he is the long lost Scandinavian brother of Owen, Luke and Andrew struggling for cash while his Hollywood brethren rake it in.
The character of Erik does come across, occasionally, as a hero almost too good to believe. When he’s confronted by the council of seniors he refuses to do as they say making him an outcast in the school, albeit one whose championed by the sports teacher and told to win the swimming races “for the lower classes.” The sports teacher is, for me, a somewhat strange character. He convinces Erik to beat the favoured senior at swimming, telling him sport is democratic and that it will give the lower classes the champion they need and then sort of leaves him to confront the consequences alone. Not what Erik would’ve hoped for, but he’s a strong lad and one with certain masochistic tendencies. He seems to like getting hit–and hit a lot–at one point letting someone stub a cigar out on his chest (admirably, this is to protect the big wus that is his roommate, Pierre) without so much as flinching. An act that doesn’t go unnoticed by the bookish Pierre (Henrik Lundström), who sees fit to comment on what a crazy thing that is to do. But the subject of his masochism isn’t really broached again, so we’re left to draw our own conclusions. There’s also a certain homoerotic charge between him and Pierre that’s never really fully divulged or explored…but maybe I’m just reading too much into it.
Erik’s rebellious tendencies are noted early on in the film. Before he leaves for boarding school, we see Elvis pictures on his wall (young snake-hipped Elvis) placing the story in a cultural and historical context (we’re in the ’50s). Also when he first arrives and meets Pierre they discuss Rebel Without A Cause and its relative merits. Which also offers a neat little parallel (read: Erik as James Dean and Pierre as Sal Mineo). This man’s a rebel without a pause. Plus it’s also a nice little metaphor for what was going on in Sweden at the time when the old order of fascism (represented by the bullies and most of the teachers) was beginning to be overcome by the democratic values of the West or USA (Erik, his swimming teacher, Pierre).
And so onto the perpetrators, the bullies, and an evil conniving bunch they are too. The leader of this friendly lot is Otto Silverhielm (or Shitty-hielm as Eric likes to call him) played to slimy perfection by Gustaf Skarsgård. He truly is repulsive, all neo-nazi blond locks and evil gazes and he gives Erik a veritable smorgasbord of protracted and bloody beatings in the dining hall of all places. His attitude is, perhaps, a little too evil which, sadly, undermines the authenticity of the character. At one point, he leaves Erik out in the cold tied to some stakes after ordering some pupils to pour scalding hot water over him. Slightly over the top, don’t you think? He could certainly cut his way with the best of the filmic bad guys. He’d give Saruman and Vada a run for their money. Any lip from Vada and he’d be getting a swift pang on the head with a butter knife…that’ll learn thee!
It’s got some confident directing from Mikael H&aaring;fström and some fine performances from the young actors. The brooding good looks of Andreas Wilson must surely mean Hollywood beckons (watch out Owen!) and Henrik Lundström gives a fine performance as Pierre, nerdish yet assured and all the seniors give suitably nasty turns as the vicious bullies. It’s not a bad film…really. Unfortunately, what lets it down is the predictable plot and sometimes corny (read: unconvincing) resolutions. For example, not wanting to ruin the story, the way that Erik deals with his “evil” father-in-law is a little too neat and tidy and doesn’t add weight or credibility to the rest of the tale. This is a shame, really, because the build-up to the end is great stuff. Alas, I feel it’s a little overlong as well, but I shall certainly be looking out for future films from Mikael, and I’ll expect to see Andreas in the Hollywood remake (if he can fend off his siblings)…coming to a multiplex near you soon.

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