Evil (2005)

Starring Andreas Wilson, Henrik Lundstrom, Gustaf Skarsgard, Linda Zillacus

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Evil is another one of those movies, like Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, that is difficult to categorize as horror.

While a large part of the films covered here at Dread Central fit nicely and easily into the simple category of ‘horror”, there are other films that sit on the edge. Our genre has quite a few edges and Evil is resting on one of them, though at its heart, it is pure horror through and through and that’s why we’re telling you about it.

Set in 1950’s Sweden, Evil descends upon Erik Ponti , a student who clearly has some emotional issues; he’s a brutal, unforgiving fighter who barely leaves his opponents alive by the time he’s finished pummeling them. Because of his constant aggression he’s been thrown out of his last public school and is now on his way to boarding school.

The reason why Erik has become so vicious to those he encounters in the outside world is because at home he is the victim from the start of the day to the end of the day. He lives in fear of horrible abuse at the hands of his stepfather. Punishments range from a hard smack when a fork is dropped during dinner to repeated lashings with a reed when the meal is over. This punishment is perceived as fitting for any transgression big or small.

Needless to say, boarding school is vacation for Erik and he is determined to excel and make his mother proud. In order to graduate to the next level of classes, Erik decides it’s time to buckle down, stop causing trouble and bring his grades up. Unfortunately this resolution proves more and more difficult to maintain when Erik learns that this new school is run by a “High Council” of upper classmen intent on humiliating and degrading the lower classes as thoroughly and frequently as possible.

Avoiding disobedience that would mark him for immediate expulsion from school, Erik simply refuses any and all punishments doled out to him by the older students. This keeps him safely away from home and luckier still, every time he refuses to follow an instruction given by the Council, a weekend detention is assigned thus insuring an almost perpetual confinement to school grounds.

Throughout all of this tumultuous activity, Erik is still able to befriend his roommate, a quiet boy named Pierre (Lundstrom). Pierre helps Erik understand the ways of non-violent resistance, which unfortunately comes back to haunt the boys when the High Council shifts their focus from Erik to Pierre, enraging Erik on an entirely new level.

Erik’s efforts to hold himself back, to refrain from lashing out and acting on his hatred for his enemies is maddening. He knows he can end everything with a few well placed punches but he also knows that “everything” includes his decision to succeed and eventually be free of the home life that got him into this situation in the first place. It’s this inner turmoil; this struggle that lends a heavy dramatic element to the movie keeping the tone especially dark and tense and watching it is emotionally draining.

Because so many films as of late have been modeling themselves after the grittier looks and feel of older cinema, I had an expectation that, based on the time period and foreign setting, Evil would present itself in similar fashion. I was not prepared for the vibrant and varied color palette working in tandem with kinetic camera work and some really beautifully composed shots. Overall, the look of Evil is stunning and accomplished.

Additionally, the leads all turn in fine performances; no small task when you consider that the mentality of the time frame in which the film takes place was radically different from today’s standards.

The bullies are the only characters that come across somewhat two-dimensional, but then again that’s pretty much what you’d expect of someone who’d piss in the bed of a younger classmate so it works here. It’s only when these elder classmen experience defiance, when they show their fear, that they begin to attain any depth.

It is unfortunate then that the filmmakers went for an ending that was a bit too “up” to remain in line with the rest of the film. Not that I feel a happier ending is a bad thing and it does a fine job of illustrating that Erik has finally come full circle, but one as optimistic as seen here feels rather awkward after all the battles are said and done. It also doesn’t fully deliver on some much deserved revenge and while I can understand why we don’t get to see it, it sure would have been extremely satisfying to behold.

Director Mikael Hafstrom demonstrates a sure hand with the material and is definitely a talent to keep an eye on. As you may already know from recent news, Hafstrom’s next gig is the adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “1408” with John Cusack having just been cast as the lead. After seeing Evil I’m even more interested and excited to see his vision paired with King’s terrifying short story. <

Magnolia Pictures will be releasing Evil in select theaters this month so check your local theaters for availability. A DVD release is expected later this year.

4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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