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King of Devil's Island/Kongen av Bastřy

6/10

Stars: Stellan Skarsgard, Kristoffer Joner, Benjamin Helstad, Trond Nilssen, Kimmo Rajala, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Magnus Langlete

Director: Marius Holst

Yet another film that proves Skarsgard is an impressive actor, helping to erase memories of his appearances in multiplex-aimed time-passers like Mamma Mia, King Arthur and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Here, in this vivid and often horrifying coming-of-age thriller, Skarsgard (in a role that De Niro might well have hammed up to the hilt and well beyond) is chillingly convincing as the hard-assed governor of a Norwegian island prison in 1915 whose ‘maladjusted boy’ inmates – youngsters from 11 years old to 18 – endure hellish lives on the windswept island. Skarsgard is not, however, your standard horrorflick psycho, not is the film a shocker. He runs the prison like a ship, intending to 'cure' the prisoners and transform them into upright citzens.

The status quo is dangerously disrupted by the arrival of newcomers Helstad and Langlete whose reactions to their appalling conditions finally trigger off a rebellion that brought the Norwegian navy to the jail. (And If the ‘boys’-prison-erupts’ saga sound a tad derivative, in fact King of Devil’s Island is based on a true story: the island prison of Bastoy).

Grim-looking locations and drained-of-colour cinematography (John Andreas Anderson) add dramatic power, and performances are uniformly good and, in the case of Joner as a sadistic warder, truly terrifying. HolstÂ’s direction is to the point without unnecessary auteurish flourishes.

(Incidentally, one source claims Bastoy is now “The first ecological prison in the world” where prisoners can see cable TV and indulge in such sports as skiing and tennis. Could a sequel where the inmates rebelling in order to have more TV channels be a future possibility?)

Alan Frank

Norway/France/Sweden/Poland 2010. UK Distributor: Arrow Film Distribution. Colour.
116 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 24 Jun 2012