King of Devil's Island
This film sits alongside the Devil’s Island of Henri Charriere’s Papillon, forming an archipelago of punishment and retribution. The setting is the Bastoy Borstal in this period piece Scandinavian Scum. Damaged youth are sent here to be cleansed through religion and are instead further brutalised by its inhuman fundamental dogma. Stellan Skarsgard is the chillingly misguided principal who wishes “To find an honourable, humble, useful Christian boy and polish him, shape him.”
His arrogance in trying to ‘save’ mutinous new inmate Erling is matched by this young man’s insolent swagger. Inevitably this collision leads to ever escalating violence. This overlong tale covers no new ground but is still solid filmmaking, well performed and stunningly photographed. The island is a barren prison in itself, an inhospitable and unforgiving landscape. Even Fincher’s penal planet in Alien 3 pales next to this reality of harsh nature. What is interesting and worthy is the film’s take on the impossibility of catharsis through violence. Nothing is ever quite so easy.