“A potential foreign-language Oscar candidate” — Scott Roxborough, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Director: Marius Holst
Screenplay: Dennis Magnusson, Eric Schmid
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Kristoffer Joner, Benjamin Helstad, Trond Nilssen, Magnus Langlete
Producers: Karin Julsrud, Antoine De Clermont-Tonnerre
Print Source: Film Movement
At the beginning of the 20th century, Bastøy Island, located in the middle of the Oslofjorden bay some 75 km south of Oslo, was used as a correctional facility for young male delinquents. In 1915, an uprising occurred, which prompted the intervention of the army — one of only two times in history when the Norwegian Army fired on its own people. KING OF DEVIL’S ISLAND imagines what it must have been like for the boys living there, and what could have triggered the revolt.
The 17-year-old Erling arrives on the island after being suspected of killing a man. The whaling-boat harpooner is certainly the most hardened young man there, as others have spent years in the correctional facility for such petty crimes as stealing from church collection boxes. On Bastøy, life is tough, the manual labour imposed is arduous, the young inmates are underdressed and underfed for the cold Norwegian winter. The rough-handed staff maintains a rigorous regime of strict rules and cruel punishments meant to break the lads down, to make them “honourable, humble, useful, Christian boys.” The system goes as far as eliminating their names, replacing them with numbers. Erling, or C-19, becomes friendly through adversity with Olav, or C-1, and keeps an eye out for the weaker Ivar, or C-5. The daily keeper of the boys is Housefather Brthen, under the direction of the Governor (Stellan Skarsgård). When the boys realize that Brthen is sexually abusing the weakest of their group, and that nothing is done to fix the situation, Erling and Olav fly into a violent rage that lands them in solitary confinement. Managing to escape, they inspire the lot of the young inmates to rebel against the outnumbered keepers. Will any of them finally manage to escape Devil’s Island?
Among the remarkable assets of KING OF DEVIL’S ISLAND are its blue- and grey-filtered cinematography that emphasizes the harsh Norwegian winter, as well as the authenticity of the set’s period details that effectively evokes the harsh reality of the time. The presence of acting powerhouse Stellan Skarsgård (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, GOYA’S GHOSTS, THOR) is balanced out by the raw performances of mostly non-professional teenagers. Following MIRUSH, DRAGONFLY and CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO DIE, this is the fourth film from Marius Holst, whose award shelf at home includes the 1995 Berlin Film Festival’s Blue Angel Award, a Special Mention at the 2002 Edinburgh IFF and the Golden Swan Award from the 2007 Copenhagen IFF.