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Evil (Ondskan) (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

MIKAEL Håfström's intense boarding school drama, Evil (Ondskan), emerged as Sweden's nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Oscars and it's easy to see why.

The film is an unapologetically raw look at the corrosive effect of violence that is based on the popular autobiographical novel by Jan Guillou (published in 1981).

Former model turned actor, Andreas Wilson, plays Erik, a troubled teenager who wreaks revenge on his classmates with his fists for the daily physical abuse he is forced to endure from his evil step-father.

After being expelled for the umpteenth time, Erik's mother (Marie Richardson) has no choice but to send her son to a boarding school in Stjarnsberg, where he resolves to stay out of trouble.

But far from offering a respite from the clutches of his step-dad, the school itself is governed by a vicious school council made up of senior pupils, who take a sadistic delight in ensuring that their rules are adhered to.

Hence, Erik is soon targeted by two of the most vicious senior boys (Gustaf Skarsgård and Jesper Salén) and resolves to make a stand, beginning a campaign of civil disobedience (rather than violence) with the support of his newfound best friend (Henrik Lundström).

The question then remains how far can Erik be pushed before resorting to his fists in a move that will guarantee his expulsion and final chance at securing a sound education?

Erik's journey is brilliantly portrayed by Wilson who expertly taps into the fear and frustration of his abused student.

His friendship with Lundström's 'book nerd' is really well-developed, as is his forbidden relationship with one of the school's dinner girls (Linda Zilliacus), but it's his battle of wits with Skarsgård and Salén that delivers most of the memorable moments.

When Wilson does eventually 'crack', his revenge is exacted in surprising fashion.

Håfström's film is clearly designed to show the knock-on effect that violence creates on the lives of the people who are forced to live with it - presenting viewers with a hero who genuinely strives to rise above it.

As such, it is both an inspiring tale of triumph against adversity and a damning indictment of the sort of institutions and social structures that must have been rife in the Fifties.

Comparisons are inevitable with the likes of If... and, to a lesser degree, The Magadalene Sisters, but the film has its own story to tell and does so in gripping fashion.

And for all of its raw power and bone-crunching violence, there is some humour to enjoy as well, that brings some welcome relief to the sustained tension that exists throughout Erik's upbringing.

Evil is therefore a riveting tale of boarding school life that has its own lessons for anyone willing to take notice.

(In Swedish, with subtitles; 114mins)

Read the full story behind Evil

Read the full interview with Mikael Håfström

Derailed - Håfström reveals more about his next project

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