Friday, June 15, 2007

EVIL (2003) Movie Review

EVIL (2003)

Erik has been kicked out high school for pummeling a fellow student, and has one last chance to graduate when his mother sends him to a boarding school in Sweden. Should Erik become expelled, both his education and future will become failures. After moving in to the lower class dormitory, he quickly befriends his roommate, Pierre, a shy intellect who warns Erik to stay as low profile as possible. Erik soon discovers that within the school, the students rule and discipline themselves, with the student council operating as judge, jury and executioner. Erik, who just wants to be left alone, attempts to avoid the hazing and humiliating commands of the upper class, but it only insights them further, and they instead focus their attention on Pierre, hoping to get at Erik that way. Meanwhile, Erik has become smitten with one of the young kitchen staff, Marja, despite the fact that students are forbidden to talk to the staff.

Erik's ability to take pain and punishment, a side-effect of the years of torment he has taken at the hands of his step-father, only infuriate the escalating mob mentality of the student council. When their tactics finally cross a point of no return, and realizing that the faculty will not intervene, Erik abandons the peaceful protests that Pierre has helped instill in him. Sometimes violence must be met on with violence, and Erik's fists have had much more experience at fighting than the wealthy snobs he must face off against could hope to imagine.

At the very onset of the film, director Mikael Hafstrom, who also adapted the screenplay from the novel by Jan Guillou plays a fantastic mind trick on the viewer. Erik is dubbed "evil" by his headmaster as he is being expelled, and thus we assume this is where the film's title comes from. However, Erik's plight and determination not to be bullied nor commanded as the film quickly moves on proves him not to be a rebellious youth within the school, but one of the most civilized students within the system.

The question of whether evil is instilled at birth or if it is nurtured has long been a debate, and Hafstrom immediately expresses his opinion in that it is certainly the latter through his subjects. Pierre, who acts as a philosophical guide through the wasteland that is the boarding school, mentions his theory that freshmen who are tormented become seniors who torment as an act of revenge, and thus creates an unending cycle of violence. Hafstrom sets up scene after scene that would hold this theory to be true, and also sets up an indifference, if not approval, of this torment in the name of school team spirit by the faculty.

Andreas Wilson, who beat out 120 other young men auditioning for the part, makes his acting debut here as Erik, and what a breathtaking performance it is. Perhaps it is his natural screen presence, or his handsome European features, but Wilson embraced by the camera and would appear to be an actor who has grown up acting. Wilson's portrayal is vivid and complex. The character of Erik is very intelligent, despite his quick-fisted tendencies. Watching Wilson's eyes and expressions, you can see a clash of half a dozen emotions and thoughts racing through his head as his character decides what to do next. The film very much depends on your ability to comprehend and sympathize with Erik, and Wilson's performance easily achieves such feelings. His performance would garner him a Best Actor win at the Shanghai International Film Festival and a nomination at the Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars).

While Erik's peers at his school are the main focus of the film and the brunt of his challenge to stay peaceful, his true nemesis comes in the form of his step-father, which is played with cruel and subtle perfection by Johan Rabaeus. With the stepfather comes an experience is mindgames and sadistic torture that the youthful boys naturally lack. His devotion to destroying Erik, which is given no reason save for the simple pleasure gets from it, is given as the underlying origin of Erik's quick tendencies toward violence. Erik has no option to retaliate against his stepfather, and instead unleashes on his fellow students prior to his induction into the boarding school. As their subplot unfolds, toward a quite satisfying conclusion, Pierre's "circle of violence" theory gains further merit.

Though Hafstrom and the source material clearly have an opinion on the subject matter at hand, they allow the viewer to come to their side naturally, instead of force-feeding their opinion in each scene. The story unfolds subjectively through Erik, and save for a few brief scenes, Andreas Wilson carries each scene. We learn as Erik learns, and because of that, the film has a very introspective core. The film is quite emotional, and you will find yourself constantly asking yourself what you might do in Erik's shoes, or have a gut reaction to reach through the screen in an attempt to intervene against the antagonists' wicked schemes, making for a truly invigorating viewing experience.


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