Evil Review

Evil exemplifies the benefit of the doubt sometimes afforded to films simply because they arrive in this country with subtitles. Had this movie about a troubled teenager sent to a strict, cultish boarding school been made in the U.S., it's unlikely the critics would have praised it, or that our Oscar voters would've nominated it for anything (it was one of the foreign-film nominees back in 2003). Granted, that version would have starred Paul Walker, but there you go.

Erik (Andreas Wilson) looks like a bully when we first see him, but after a glimpse at his drab home life -- presided over by a smugly sadistic stepfather -- we start to sympathize, and want him to succeed at the imposing private school where he is exiled after another schoolyard scuffle. Director Mikael Håfström draws us into Erik's outsider status, as he encounters a ruling class of fascist seniors that suggests the military crossed with a frat (their homecoming float is doubtless a regimented marvel). Erik doesn't much care for the hazing involved when he endeavors to join the swim team, but doesn't want to wage a war, either.

To this point, Evil is, at least, a semi-economical semi-thriller far more efficient than Derailed, Håfström's ill-fated U.S. debut. But the weight and extent of its seriousness are more than a boarding-school picture can realistically bear; pity the melodrama that considers itself a parable. What initially seems elegant in its simplicity turns out to be simply thin.

From roughly the halfway mark, the movie is more or less doomed to predictability. No character's behavior deviates at all from what we expect (the nerd is wise but cowardly; the villains never back down; etc.), and no amount of sympathy spares the tersely likable Wilson from going down with the ship. In a characterization that the film seems to consider complex and even thought-provoking, Erik attempts to shun his violent past, until he is provoked and threatened beyond even his considerable endurance, at which point he must reluctantly use violence to defend his values. That is to say, his philosophy echoes basically every quasi-humanized action hero of the past decade or two of film.

Though its title suggests the tackling of tricky moral absolutes, Evil is almost as far from complete awfulness as it is from greatness. It's cleanly shot and carries the easy but inevitable drama of one righteous guy standing up to a bunch of jerks and creeps. In short, it would make a compelling made-for-TV movie. Add the mystique of a foreign language, though, and suddenly the U.S. considers it an art film.

Aka Ondskan.


Facts and Figures

Run time: 113 mins

In Theaters: Friday 26th September 2003

Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures


Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 12

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Ingemar Leijonborg, Hans Lönnerheden