Written by Dennis Magnusson and Eric Schmid
Directed by Marius Holst
Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Kristoffer Joner, and Benjamin Helstad
Length 1 hr 56 min
Available on Netflix and HuluPlus
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
– Lord Acton
King of Devil’s Island is a tragic tale of unchecked power, and what that power inevitably leads to. Based very closely on real events , the story takes place in early 20th century Norway, at a correctional facility for the worst, and most troubled, juvenile offenders. The official name of the facility is Bastøy Boys Home, but it’s simply called Devil’s Island by its inhabitants, and rightly so. The island is surrounded by sheets of ice due to the brutal cold, in which the boys labor every day. The abuse mounted on them by the guards and teachers only adds to the miserable conditions they face.
The warden of the facility is the daunting Bestyreren, played by international talent Stellan Skarsgård. He is tall, imposing, and exacting. Most importantly he is a man who had big dreams for his life and has seen them dissolve into thin air. His passion for his institution is powerful but has become twisted. No doubt Devil’s Island was created with noble intentions, but isolation and power have turned instruction into dictatorship and discipline into cruelty.
In the end, the men who think they have all the power create their own destruction through the mistreatment of the boys. King of Devil’s Island is a moral tale about the dangers of power and misplaced passion. The bleak photography of John Andreas Andersen and the haunting score by Johan Soderqvist combine to create a sense of awe and helplessness in the viewer. But the rousing performances by the boys saves the film from being a total depress fest. There is a strength of spirit there that cannot be broken, and in the end the story is also about hope and victory over the impossible.
3 out of 4 stars
Click here for a link to a documentary about Bastoy Island