Directed by Mikael Håfström
When I was a wee lad, growing up in a working class household, I dreamed that one day I would attend a boarding school. I imagined Victorian hallways garnished by fine antiques and acres of lush green sporting pastures where I might play rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer.
Mikael Håfström’s Evil takes place in the 1950s, following Erik Ponti, a teenage tearaway who is in the last chance saloon after a vicious schoolyard fight; he is referred to as “evil” by his headmaster, expelled, and subsquently sent to a stuffy Swedish boarding school by his Mother in the hope he might yet become an upstanding young man. The school is very old fashioned, and the newest pupils are ruled by the Student Council, who are quite similar to prefects in the British boarding school system. The worst of whom is Silverhielm, a tall strapping blue chipper who rules the roost. His henchman Dahlen, is a vile little twerp who revels in his role as number two.
After refusing to obey Silverhielm and Dahlen’s orders Erik finds himself as the hero of his fellow outcasts, and enemy of the Student Council. Erik bonds with his bespectacled roommate Pierre and together they decide that the best resistance is a defiant pacifist stance, inspired by Gandhi. Throughout the film this resistance is tested as they are physically beaten, endure weeks of solitary weekend detention and are frequently humiliated by the Council.
There is a heartwarming little romance in the film as Erik falls for a Finnish cafeteria worker called Marja. The cafeteria staff are forbidden from fraternizing with students, but this does not stop Erik. Marja is particularly taken by Erik standing up for what is ‘right’. The relationship fits in with what ultimately is a coming of age tale as Erik gets his dick wet for the first time.
I think anyone who’s enjoyed films such as ‘Dead Poets Society’ or ‘If…’ would find Evil a satisfying two hour viewing. Håfström’s direction is terrific, and his artistic use of blood during the fight scenes paints a harrowing sense of realism. This is used particularly well during the opening schoolyard beatdown and when Erik receives a battering from Silverheilm in the cafeteria. Violence and physical abuse features throughout the film, as Erik receives several belt lashings from his horrid stepfather. It is interesting how Håfström makes such a blunt point as to how violence usually continues indefinitely until someone steps in. This is represented by Erik’s Mum playing the piano to block out the sound of leather on flesh, and the members of the school baying for blood rather than intervening when someone crosses the line.
There are some outstanding acting performances in the film, particularly from Gustaf Skarsgård (yes, he is part of the Skarsgård acting dynasty) as Silverhielm, and some stellar supporting turns from Mats Bergman, Magnus Roosmann and Ulf Friberg as teachers in the boarding school.
If I’m to make one criticism, it is rather disappointing as the film builds quite nicely for a dramatic finale, only to then tie together all the loose ends in an anti-climatic happily-ever-after fashion. This may well closely follow the novel’s ending, which the film is adapted from, but nonetheless it still irked me somewhat.