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The Substitute

Directed by Ole Bornedal

Written by Henrik Prip, Ole Bornedal

Starring Paprika Steen, Ulrich Thomsen, Jonas Wandschneider, Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok

Produced by Michael Obel

Rated R

93 mins

***

It sounds like the start of a bad children’s book, I know—“My teacher is an alien!” Yeah, we all grew up with something like that around somewhere, didn’t we? And it was great back when we were in the fourth grade, but can this concept apply further?

That’s the question The Substitute will pose, as an alien comes down to earth from a planet that knows only war in search of something mankind has—love. Weird, I know, and she’s going to try and get it from the children as she poses as a teacher about to take her class to an international competition in Paris. And although she’s not exactly the nicest of educators, she’s got the parents eating out of her hand. So can the kids keep themselves from falling prey to an alien plot? Or will they be just one small cog in a much greater disaster coming?

I have to hand it to The Substitute for being able to really milk a joke—there’s this excellent stretch where one of the students is describing this really outlandish dream before revealing that it’s all just a crock.

But then…there’s a pretty big problem with the sound track not synching up with character movements, and I think that may well have something to do with the fact that this is likely Danish in origin. Danish horror? I’m downright intrigued!

It is all somewhat predictable—even the kids see it coming when the opportunity to catch the alien in the act of being a lunatic live-chicken-eater comes and goes in a haze of normalcy. I love watching the kids board the bus as the teacher / alien gets to take the kids off to Paris.

There are so many moments I love about The Substitute that it’s hard to understand why I didn’t love the whole so much more. I suppose it’s true what they say about the whole being more than the sum of its parts, and in this case, the whole is not so much.

The ending may well be the best part of The Substitute for a change, as it removes all the subterfuge and excuses and such and instead leaves us with a nice unalloyed final boss fight sort of ending that does a solid and satisfying job.

The special features include audio options, English and Spanish subtitles, director’s commentary, audio in the original Danish (I thought it was Danish!) and trailers for Brotherhood of Blood, Room 205, No Man’s Land: Rise of the Reeker, Trackman, Dark Floors, Last House in the Woods and Dance of the Dead.

All in all, The Substitute, despite extensive problems with predictability, manages to satisfy and satisfy fairly solidly. Let me be clear on one point—this will not scare you. Seriously, no scares here. I don’t know why Ghost House brought this on. But it is a solid and entertaining little title with a great ending, and it’s definitely worth a watching.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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