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4.7 out of 5 stars
King of Devil's Island
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
The chilling true life tale told in the Norwegian drama "King of Devil's Island" is not dissimilar to the topic of a dozen other films I could list without even breaking a sweat. Essentially set in a reform school, if a rather dramatically located one, not much about the story's actual plot will surprise you. Similar narrative arcs have been recounted in numerous books, movies, and TV shows. Yet, I credit the film's screenplay, director, and (especially) its cast for making a well-worn topic seem vital and unexpected. Norway's controversial Bastoy Reform School, set on a remote and desolate island, makes for a memorable setting and this bleak and wintry locale acts almost as one of the piece's central characters. As the fog rolls in or the fjord freezes over, the stark visual imagery and demanding physical environment supports the notion that, at heart, this is a survival drama more than anything else.

A menacing Stellan Skarsgard plays the facility's upright Governor. He has, rightfully, received acclaim for this performance and indeed he is one of the more underrated and versatile actors working today. But foremost, this is a movie that is distinguished by its young cast. Benjamin Helstad plays a new internee with a healthy disrespect for authority. His counterpart is a trustee near the end of his stay played by Trond Nilssen. Despite having very different viewpoints, the boys form an unexpected bond. As their friendship grows, it is easy to see how each actually challenges the other to be a better person. And ultimately, they both seek a world of justice and fairness even if it means standing up against the disciplinary system in place. One case of physical abuse starts a ball rolling that neither seem willing or able to stop. And this gives them the power to forever affect Bastoy.

Both Helstad and Nilssen are instrumental to the film's success and power. As the tensions start to escalate and a movement of rebellion sweeps the school, the movie becomes tense and unforgettable. But because we stay grounded with this central relationship, things never feel unreal or over-the-top. Even in the most harrowing moments of the film, the friendship never lost its focus or my interest. In the end, the quiet scenes have greater poignancy than you might anticipate. I know some people will connect with the grand spectacle, but I stayed firmly invested in the more intimate drama. I loved "King of Devil's Island" for its depiction of friendship, loyalty, and the pursuit of justice. The topic of reform school uprisings has been covered before, but rarely has it felt so genuinely rooted in nobility and rightness. KGHarris, 4/12.

The DVD contains a bonus short film from the United Kingdom called "Bale." It's a dynamic 15 minute film about how harmless childhood pranks can turn deadly serious. The young cast is quite good and it has a stunning visual centerpiece in its enormous hay bale that acts as both a source of wonder and of danger. As an added bonus, if you follow the British iteration of "Being Human"-- Michael Socha (Tom) has a pivotal role. A nice, if not essential, addition that carries over some of the same youthful themes as the film.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I'm still trying to put into words how I feel about this film. It is so much deeper and more fulfilling than I initially expected and so I'm still piecing together exactly what it left me with. I was really expecting a more generically constructed film; a film that was more on the clichéd and genre side of things. With a quote like "Skarsgard is terrifying" pasted on the top of the poster, my mind blocked in the possibilities and basically centered on `young boys are treated harshly by heartless man' with no wiggle room for what I was really presented with.

Marius Holst is a genius.

`King of Devil's Island' tells the true story of the Bastoy Boys, young men sent to Bastoy Island to a correctional facility where their childish ways are to be worked out of them. The facility is governed by a stern yet complex man (there is so much more behind those eyes than one could imagine). Bastoy is shaken with the arrival of two youths, Erling and Ivar. Erling is a repressed soul, rough and not one who easily bends to authority. Ivar is a quieter and more impressionable young man; easily taken advantage of and almost instantly becomes the target of a housefather with questionable intentions. Erling comes under the wing of Olav, a fellow Bastoy Boy who is a few weeks shy of getting his ticket home after spending six long years on the island. As the days pass and Erling continually bucks authority, refusing to learn the rules, life is turned upside down when the morals and convictions of the boys and those in positions of power is questioned and confronted.

The script is fantastic, dissecting the raw humanity found in each of the film's main characters. Holst's direction is a major asset for he understands how to mold such intensity between the lines. The homoerotic nature of the scenes, the way that the boys are framed, is just insanely inspired. The scene in the washroom between Erling and Oystein is a marvelous example of using a subtle sensuality to dig into the heart of these young men. The cinematography is some of the best of last year; so crisp and cold and emotionally compacted. The way that these scenes are framed and the almost washed out color pallet adds so much weight to the proceedings.

But this film is really a showcase for some stunning performances. Stellan Skarsgard is breathtaking. The way he edges out an entire backstory with mere facial shifts and emotional stares is remarkable. While his lips are moving you can watch his eyes betray his words with a confliction that is hard to express adequately, and he manages to do so effortlessly. He reminds me here of his `Melancholia' co-star Kiefer Sutherland. Both actors (in these respective roles) balance out the desire to lean on the paternal yet the flawed way in which circumstance can derail even the best of intentions. But, it is the youth in this film that really shine. Morten Lovstad is saddled with a seemingly clichéd role as the resident bully, but he builds so many layers with barely a word to the point where his character's arc is beautifully sincere. Benjamin Helstad helms with film with such bridled intensity, it is unforgettable. The way he cycles his character's actions with his intentions is beautiful to watch. But, this film belongs to young Trond Nilssen who just blew me away with his portrayal of Olav. The slow burn, that build of character, the turning point, the breakdown, the final frame; all of it sent shivers down my spine.

`King of Devil's Island' sounds like a generic film. It has the ring of a teen film about aggression with shallow development. That couldn't be further from the truth. With rich character development and a beautiful understanding of visual depth, this film is unforgettable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
This is a Norwegian film from director Marius Holst and is based on actual events which took place in 1915 on Bastoy Island. It was then a correctional facility for adolescent males. It is in Oslo fjord and was run as a home from 1900 to 1953 and is still today a minimum security prison. The film deals with events that occurred in 1915. Erling is a seventeen year old who is sent to the prison. He is given a new name C19, all personal effects are removed, hair shaven etc.

The boys are supposed to be turned into good Christians by the regime in order to be released. This is indeterminate sentencing, as it is the Governor who decides when a boy is redeemed and can go back into society. The regime is one of hard physical labour, meagre and poor rations and both physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the house masters. C19 is one of those who decides that it is not the sort of place he wants to remain and so sets about planning to escape from the freezing hell hole.

What ensues is a tale that mirrors quite a few films that have gone before such as `Scum' and `Evil'. The Governor played brilliantly by Stellan Skarsgard tells the boys `escape is a childish fantasy', and for me that is pivotal to the whole film. This was shot in 54 days and the boys are not `professional' actors but this really works. No one is a passenger and the tension is palpable throughout.

It is one of those films that seem shorter than it is and when you consider this is based on actual events it makes it all the more engaging, in Norwegian with good sub titles, this is a real and visceral film that deserves more attention than it received.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I was able to watch this through my cable provider ...and I cannot believe how amazing this film is. I await the precious day when it's out on DVD...I will buy it and tell everybody I know to buy/watch it. This is the most haunting, chilling, and incredible beautiful film..I highly highly recommend this!!!!!! Norwegian cinema is a hidden gemstone...and this film is STUNNING. The acting, the true history behind the film, the cinematography, the mood, all of it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2012
Format: DVD
The King of Devil's Island is a brutally powerful movie that reminds us yet again that many of us live our lives governed by unjust and unforgiving people and institutions that happily benefit from our suffering. Yes there is decency and caring in this film, but they occur episodically and against all odds within a context so hard and destructive that humane impulses are invariably short-lived, sometimes terminated by death, and otherwise smothered under depravity, greed, cowardice, and indifference.

Given this background, the script is exemplary. The black and white setting is so cold and forbidding that one can feel it's unyielding grip while watching at home, as the actors play their parts to perfection. It's understandable that viewers would be moved by moments of compassion and sharing, and that they would be be thrilled when the oppressed finally turn on their oppressors and, if only briefly, take back their lives. The fact that they do so without the hate-filled drive for vengeance that one might expect is either admirably humane or disingenuously self-mortifying, I can't decide which. Maybe it's just a byproduct of chronically under-fed boys preferring to wolf down stolen sausages before they think of violent retribution.

Either way, there is nothing to celebrate. The iron-fisted rule of a corrupt administration is restored in short order. While one of the strongest boys drowns after falling through a soft spot in the ice, a ship bringing agents of state oppression smashes through a frozen fjord and rounds up those who remain, returning them to the reform school's comfortless barracks.

After watching The King of Devil's Island, anyone who takes solace in small victories in impossibly painful circumstances as evidence of the strength and durability of the human spirit is, I think, missing the point and succumbing to sentimentality. The dead are dead. The brutalized are brutalized. The powerful remain powerful.

Yes, the King of Devil's Island ignites sparks of decency where they would seem least likely to occur. As with so much of the good in our world of six billion, however, the promise of a more humane existence is quickly stomped out.

This is a truly fine film in every respect. It is not, however, a hopeful film, but one that speaks truth to damnation and does so with no effect, an example of broadly applicable Norwegian realism at its very best.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2012
Format: DVD
The director, Marius Holst, and the large cast have created a movie that needed to be told. The brutal treatment and abuse suffered by the inmates of a reform school for boys, located on an island in the Oslo fjord, Norway, was not only horrific but demonstrative of the tragic public and academic ignorance about the causes and corrections of juvenile delinquency that prevailed a hundred years ago. This movie is visually and emotionally visceral. How much of it is true is undocumented but the plot is based on actual events. The institution was operating from 1900 to 1953 and having grown up nearby I can say that "behave yourself or you will be sent to Bastøy" was a threat routinely voiced by adults to my more rambunctious peers. It did put the fear of the devil into little boys.

The Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård has the main role as the Governor of the school. His acting is superbly crafted to the role. The cruelty of the headmaster is also portrayed with convincingly chilling skill. But the young actors who portray the boys who instigate the rebellion deserve the biggest accolades. It was necessary for this movie to be abruptly blunt in its imagery and consequently it is not for the squeamish. Photography and music intensify the grittiness. The dialogue is in Norwegian and Swedish with English subtitles.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
KING OF DEVIL'S ISLAND (Kongen av Bastøy) is an experience more than a film. It dares to take the viewer where all is black and white, emotionally and visually, and while the film is shot in color, the only moment of color in this dark, atmospherically eerie snow bound island boys prison is the occasional blood and fire that creates even more of an impact because of the bleak screen that serves as background for the story. Based on a true story by Mette M. Bølstad and Lars Saabye Christensen and adapted for the screen by Dennis Magnusson and Eric Schmid, the fine cast is directed by Marius Holst.

In 1915 on the island Bastøy, located in the Oslo fjord, live a group of delinquent, young boys aged 11 to 18 in the Bastøy Boys Reform School. The boys daily, sadistic regime is run by the guards and Governor Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgård) who is stern but seemingly fair in his management of the reform school (his wife lives with him in an opulent manner). But the Housemaster, a smarmy pedophile names Master Bråthen (Kristoffer Joner), is cruel and malicious and bestows both mental and physical abuse on the boys: the boys are used for cheap manual labor rather than being schooled and `corrected' to return to society. The boys attempt to survive by adapting to their inhumane conditions. One day a new 17 year old boy, Erling who is assigned the `name' C19 (Benjamin Helstad), arrives with his own agenda: how to escape from the island. How far is he willing to go in order to get his freedom? There is a stalwart lad Ivar/C5 (Magnus Langlete) who is due for release and a rather frail lad Olav/C1 (Trond Nilssen) who falls victim to the Master: these lads are C19's colleagues. After a tragic incident takes place, Erling ends up forced into the destinies of the other boys by leading them into a violent uprising. Once the boys manage to take over Bastøy 150 government soldiers are sent in to restore order. How he maneuvers the escape fantasy brings a surprising ending to the story.

The acting is first rate from a fine group of young actors. The cinematography is by John Andreas Andersen and the haunting musical score is by Johan Söderqvist. In Norwegian with English subtitles. A moody, deeply moving work. Grady Harp, February 12
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2012
Format: DVD
I was gripped and impressed, and wasn't expecting to be so connected to the characters, sympathizing through their pains and victories. This film is definitely one to watch. Trond Nilssen's performance as Olav, who is the leader of the boys' barracks that the film highlights, is especially great. I found myself rooting for all the boys on the island. Of course Skarsgård's acting doesn't fail, or the film's young, rebellious leading man, Erling played by Benjamin Helstad.

The film is worth every minute you spend in front of that screen.
"Edge of your seat" is an understatement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2012
Format: DVD
Set in 1915, Marius Holst's drama "King of Devil's Island" ("Kongen av Bastøy") starts with 17-year-old boy Erling (Benjamin Helstad), sent to Bastøy Boys Home, a real-life correctional facility that existed in Norway from 1900 to 1953. What the newly arrived boy committed outside the island is not very clear. What we know is that Erling (his assigned number C19) is determined to escape, like Steve McQueen's character "Papillon"

The "model" inmate Olav or "C1" (Trond Nilssen) does not understand Erling's rebellious attitudes. Olav believes it is impossible to escape, let alone revel against Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgård), strict governor of the facility. But things take a drastic turn when some terrifying secrets about the facility are revealed.

Stellan Skarsgård is brilliant as governor Bestyreren trying to protect the system he is determined to believe in. With his barely-concealed hypocrisy he clings to the remnants of ideals he knows are lost. Skarsgård gives depth to this complicated character, which is something he is rarely given a chance to do in Hollywood-made films.

"King of Devil's Island" works both as a parable of powers, and a story about friendship. Probably you have seen films with similar themes and settings. That does not mean that intense and chilling "King of Devil's Island" is only recycling worn-out themes. The film's strength lies in the realistic portrayals of people, teenagers and adults alike, trapped in this small island where everyone, everything stopped moving on. With authentic on-location shots and first-rate performances from the entire cast, the film is a riveting experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Let me state upfront that I am a long-time fan of the Film Movement library of foreign and indie movies (in fact earlier this year I finally gave in and started my subscription). I recently was shopping at the foregn movie section of my local library and when I saw this. I immediately picked it up.

"King of Devil's Island" (116 min.) is a 2010 release out of Norway. It bring the (true) story of a reform school located on Bastoy Island in Southeastern Norway. The movie starts with the arrival of a young man named Erling at the reform school. Let's just say that Erling is not suited well in this strict disciplinary (if not abusive) environment, and almost immediately he is planning his escape, almost Alcatraz-like. In fact, Erling does manage to escape! At this point, we're only 40 minutes into the movie. To give more of the plat away would really ruin your viewing experience, but let's just say that there are quite a few more dramatc moments to come.

The real star of the movie for me is the scenery, which is stark, and the photography, which is rich even in the many dark and gray scenes. Thie movie proves once again that a foreign movie doesn't have to be "boring", even if if doesn't have any CGI scenes in it. If you like a sophisticated, spellbinding foreign movie, "King of Devil's Island" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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