I usually have to get myself psyched up for prison movies. I always feel that it is going to be an endurance test that pushes me to the limit. It’s almost like I’m about to “do time” myself. I had no such preparation for The King of Devil’s Island. I had to man-up and take the punishment – and I’m glad that I did.
This Norwegian drama from director Marius Holst is set in Bastøy, a boy’s prison on an island off Oslo, which is governed by Stellan Skarsgård’s Håkon. The film tells the true story of the events which led to a 1915 riot which took place in the prison. The riot happened after the boys were mistreated by those who were supposed to be taking care of them, and the insurrection got so bad that Norwegian army had to be called in to quell it.
The King of Devil’s Island is a noble film, one that makes for great viewing – but it can’t just shake the prison movie cliché’s. They’re all here – from the new prisoner arrival, to the attempted escape to the physical and sexual abuse. The young cast is uniformly excellent, and Skarsgård brings his usual fatherly gravitas to the proceedings as the flawed but ultimately well-meaning Governor. However, it just can’t overcome the hurdle of so many clichés.
The bleak cinematography creates a chilling atmosphere, and the score adds a strong undercurrent of emotion to The King of Devil’s Island, which might not be overly original, but it is exceptionally well made.