King of Devil’s Island
Based on an island on a fjord outside of Oslo is the remote boys’ prison of Bastøy. The film opens with the arrival of two new inmates, Erling (Benjamin Helstad) and Ivar (Magnus Langlete). Disguised as a correctional facility, Bastøy aims to rehabilitate young offenders aged between 11-18 years, like the rumoured murderer, Erling.
Conflicting almost immediately with the Bastøy wardens, and more specifically with the Governor (Stellan Skarsgård), Erling and Ivar witness first-hand the physical and mental abuse almost instantaneously.
But, refusing to accept his punishment, Erling makes unsuccessful attempts to escape Bastøy. Although futile, his fighting spirit ignites something in the other boys and slowly a chain of events unfolds which sparks a final rebellion. The concluding uprising is heavily induced after a tragic affair is unveiled which leads to the death of one of the boys. The dreadful circumstances are revealed and it is realised that mental and physical abuse are not the only forms of torture the boys are victim to.
Holst has brought to life this uneasy tale, set against the harsh Norwegian backdrop. Delivering a powerful experience for the audience, the film is supported by the tremendous acting abilities of all cast involved. The touching elements of friendship between the boys, juxtaposed with their hardships, make for a challenging viewing.
Although this is an intense, sombre movie, the knowledge that it is in fact a portrayal of real life events holds it in even more reverence. The landscape and weather reflect the dismal situation, and it is clear to see the robust, strong attitude of the young lads has grown out of their tough situation.
The boys’ attempt to survive is the main feature to King of Devil’s Island. Rather than emphasising just one aspect of the story, Holst has manipulated other smaller storylines, such as the Governor’s own relationship with a younger woman, to give the film a rounded feel.
Largely known for their successful illustrations of hardship, the Scandinavians always top it in the film stakes when it comes to sinister movie making, and King of Devil’s Island is no exception.
Skarsgård does a stoic job as the Governor, and along with his fellow actors, this dark moment in Norwegian history will live on. This film is absolutely worth watching.
King of Devil’s Island was released 29th June.
Watch the trailer here: