King of Devil’s Island is a wonderful example of how even the ugliest of events can be the basis of something beautiful. Based on real life accounts from Bastoy, a Norwegian reform school for maladjusted young boys (which continued to operate well into the middle of the twentieth century), this tense thriller is stepped within layer upon layer of human tragedy.
Stellan Skarsgard, one of the few professional actors in the cast, plays the school’s condescending governor; a man who turns a blind eye to the obvious abuse dished out to these underprivileged boys whilst attempting to profit from their misery. One cold winter’s morning we observe two new inmates arrive. Freshly re-named C19 and C5 (in just one of the many techniques used to further crush these young men’s spirits) the two boy’s existence within this soul destroying establishment couldn’t be any different. Whilst C5 is left to face the darkest and most mentally and physically damaging of the concealed abuse dished out to the weaker inmates, it doesn’t take long till C19 attempts to make his escape from this nightmarish prison. However, he soon discovers that escape from a juvenile Alcatraz requires more than just the determination of one man, resulting in a brutal uprising upon this isolated island of misery played out like the most violent of mutinies.
The combination of a vast array of impressive acting talent (especially Skarsgard’s monumental presence) with some stunningly captivating cinematography and immaculate attention to detail creates something visually alluring out of this otherwise unrelenting prison of wretched ill fortune.
This powerfully bleak story could perhaps have benefited from some strategic cutting and tightening, with the lengthy runtime become somewhat of a hindrance, unfortunately diluting the final explosive outcome, it’s a shame as a heavier weighting on this grippingly tense final act would have ultimately resulted in a much more powerful conclusion to this sumptuously framed tale of abusive incarceration
King of Devil’s Island, despite initially looking very much like a male version of The Magdalene Sisters, is difficult to describe as anything less than an uncomfortably haunting journey to the breaking point of the human spirit, which, despite its few missteps along the will stay with you long after you leave the cinema and for quite some time after that.