King of Devil’s Island
by Daniel Engelke
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Someone once told me, “If you’re only going to do 50% of the work, you should wear a sign saying so.” A film that lacks an apparent objective makes for a boring movie. I can think of no better example of this than King of Devil’s Island.
King of Devil’s Island tells the story of an island of misfit boys called Bastoy. The corrupt foundation of the governing body of Bastoy begins to tremble when a young boy named Erling arrives on the island. Swearing to escape the island by any means necessary, Erling tries with no success to rid himself of his captors.
When Brathen,the inmates’ overseer, is accused of committing unspeakable acts to one of the prisoners, Erling vows revenge. With most of the boys being put away on petty thefts or sac-religious crimes (stealing from the confession plate), Erling’s anti-authoritarian attitude acts as a catalyst for an uprising.
But Erling faces opposition from within his own ranks. Olav, a well mannered and soon to be released inmate, pleads with Erling to delay his coup d’etat until he is released. Of course, revolutions wait for no one, and Erling’s army overruns their oppressors. But how long can this new government stay in power when the national guard is on the way and there is an unequal distribution of power?
Seemingly led by Stellan Skarsgård, Bastoy’s corrupt government and Benjamin Helstad as Erling, both character’s are too mystic and distanced from the audience to ever form an opinion. My favorite performance in the film is a tie between Benjamin Helstad, as young Olav and Kristoffer Joner, as the true antagonist of the film, Bråthen.
Olav, the well-mannered inmate, displays his ability to keep calm around the destructive Erling, though he shares the same sentiments. Compassion and anti-authoritarian intelligence are rare qualities at his age.
Bråthen, easily the most hated character in the film, terrorizes the boys of Bastoy with his cruel punishment only to feed his sick pleasure. His sinister appearance and actions suggests the worst of a Dostoevsky villan. A real accomplishment.
I’m vehemently against looking at my watch in films as to not spoil the climax, but King of Devil’s Island had me checking the time more than once. The film’s ascetics and acting are good, but it’s message of the evils of power is too subtle for American audiences, (and probably foreign as well.)
In the end, I can’t vouch for The King of Devil’s Island because it fails to go there. Only half of the scenes, though shot beautifully, left me wanting to keep watching. And that’s a long 115 minutes of your life to not like what you’re watching. When you only go 50%, your spectators are going to know it.
Daniel Engelke works as a freelance writer and director in New York City. He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Film. He specializes in Italian Neo-Realism and the French & German New Wave.
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