October 28, 2012

Filthy Review - 'King of Devil's Island'

King of Devil’s Island (2010)

Review by Jude Felton

King of Devil’s Island is a Norwegian film that I will admit to not having been aware of until quite recently. I don’t believe it has a US release, as of writing this, but it is now set to hit Blu-ray and DVD in the UK, courtesy of the ever reliable Arrow Films. Credit is due to Arrow for picking this film up, as it is a quite terrific movie, for giving us a chance to see a film that might have unfairly slipped out of the public consciousness, had it not been for this release.

The film is based on a true story, and for once a quite believable true story, about a young boys’ correctional institution called Bastoy in 1915. It’s a remote and bleak island prison which is run with an iron rule by Hakon, played superbly by Stellan Skarsgard, a Governor who lays down the law and expects those laws to be followed.


Forced into this maelstrom are Erling and Ivar, two new arrivals who soon learn that the best way to get by is to toe the line. Erling has other plans though, and intends on escaping as soon as possible, even though no one has ever achieved this before. As the film progresses the tensions mount and secrets are revealed, whilst friendships are put to the test.

King of Devil’s Island is a quite superb movie, from the universally impressive performances through to the stunning, and bleak, scenery that surrounds Bastoy. This certainly isn’t a feel good prison escape movie, the focus being as much on the characters and their interactions, as it is about the attempted escapes themselves. On the other hand it is not a completely oppressive movie either. It is certainly harsh, and fairly bleak, in places, but never to the detriment of the film’s overall success.


This is the type of film where the supposed good guys and bad guys, so to speak, are seemingly clear-cut to start with. As the story moves forward though the lines tend to blur, leaving you with mixed emotions towards many of the characters and their situations. Due to this I found myself totally engaged in the on screen events, and found myself surprised on more than one occasion.

If King of Devil’s Island had been made in Hollywood, it would quite frankly have been a generic mess. There’s a level of subtlety and emotion on display here that more often than not gets lost in the Hollywood machine. My suggestion to you is to check this out before it gets remade, and the power of the story gets lost.


This film came across as a blend of Lord of the Flies, Papillion and Shutter Island, with the latter being purely on a visual level and nothing more. That being said, this is a film that stands on its own as an incredibly powerful movie.

Skarsgard may well get top billing here, and quite deservedly so, but the rest of the primarily young cast are also top-notch. The majority of these youngsters were not actors before this film, having being picked due to their authentic looking appearances. You wouldn’t know it though, as just about every child here puts in a wonderful display. Visually and technically the film is quite the gem as well.

King of Devil’s Island won’t have you cheering and hollering, even during its exhilarating climatic stages, instead it will leave you with a gentle poignancy that isn’t often seen. This is most certainly a film that is well worthy of your time and money.

King of Devil's Island is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Films on October 29th.

No comments: