King Of Devil's Island
BY Willard Manus
Man's inhumanity to children is, alas, a familiar story. But that doesn't mean a fresh take on it can't make for important, even unforgettable drama.
A case in point is KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND, a Norwegian film based on the true story of the Bastoy Boys Home, a reform school located on a dreary island which makes Alcatraz look like a Disney theme park. Set in 1913, the film (directed by Marius Holst and written by Mette M. Bolstad and Lars S. Christensen) centers on the incarceration of 17-year-old Erling (the stalwart Benjamin Halsted), a rebel who cannot abide the cruelty, religiosity and
hypocrisy of the institution, which is run by The Governor (the grim, corrupt Stellan Skarsgard) and his sadistic, pedophile dorm master (Kristoffer Joner).
Although The Governor boasts that no one has ever escaped from the island, conditions (condoned by the state) are so brutal and intolerable that Erling and his sidekick Ivar (Magnus Langley) risk their lives in an attempt to break free. That eventually inspires the other boys to demonstrate against their masters, in a violent uprising that results in the army being called in to defend the values of the ruling class by bludgeoning unarmed teenagers.
KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND is distinguished for the way it exposes the rot at the heart of Norway's 20th-century juvenile-justice system (which, by extension, could stand for our own). The acting by the largely amateur cast is superb, and Holst directs the terse, understated script in fluid fashion, catching the bleak atmosphere of that inhuman island--and its primal dramatic elements--with masterful control and veracity.