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‘King Of Devil’s Island’ a familiar tale that manages to maintain a distinctive edge

King Of Devil’s Island

Directed by Marius Holst

Screenplay by Dennis Magnusson

2010, Norway / France / Sweden / Poland

Working on a big budget and starring Stellan Skarsgard, King Of Devil’s Island set box-office records in its homeland when released in 2011. Now the film hits stateside in hopes of taking advantage of the slow winter season.

Set in 1915, the movie is based on the true story of the infamous Bastøy Boys Home correctional facility, a minimum-security prison for young boys, located on Bastøy Island, Norway. The film opens with the arrival of seventeen-year-old Erling (Benjamin Helstad), a rumoured murderer who’s determined to break out and who eventually leads the boys to a violent uprising against a brutal regime. In between are many of the conventions of movies about sadistic prisons — There are attempted escapes, cruel punishments, sexual abuse, suicides and any and possibly all the reform school movie tropes you’ve come to know. King Of Devil’s Island may be nothing new, but director Marius Holst gives the proceedings a fresh look, and more importantly tells an all too familiar story extremely well by keeping a firm grip on the narrative.

Thanks to sturdy acting, direction and cinematography, King of Devil’s Island is surprisingly effective. Holst employs thick moody atmospherics to enhance the conventional structure, and his storytelling aptly balances the heavy-handed symbolism involving a story of three sailors and a whale. Led by professional bad-ass Stellan Skarsgard as the governor/warden, and followed by an army of young nonprofessionals who all do an admirable job of hitting their marks, the cast make King of Devil’s Island a picture of chilling dramatic power.

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Through crisp visuals and an oppressively wintry atmosphere, Holst saves the very best for last. A tense action sequence as two of the boys try to carefully escape the island across some very thin ice. Classical in its intense simplicity, this is certainly Holt’s best moment yet.

– Ricky D