The world is not a perfect place to live. For in every corner, there are lurking menaces. Even in places where supposedly there is safety, danger is silently waiting. In this 2003 Swedish drama film, Evil (Swedish: Ondskan) takes us into the life of fifteen-year old Erik Ponti and the evils he faces both in his home and in his school.
The movie is set in 1950s Sweden. Erik (portrayed by Andreas Wilson) is expelled from his school because of fighting. His mother sends him to a prestigious boarding school in the hope that Erik turns a new leaf, as well as for him to escape the beating of his sadistic stepfather. But Erik soon learns that behind the mask of prestige, the school hides a different form of evil, something more subtle and grimmer. From being the bully of his previous school, Erik has now become the prey.
At Stjärnsberg Boarding School, the older students, presumably the student council, exercise atrocious rules over the school. Led by Otto (Gustaf Skarsgard), the council abuses freshmen students physically and psychologically, all happening before the blind eyes of the faculty. Erik is not the type to be pushed around, and when he refuses the absurd requests of two councilmen, he becomes the subject of bullying. Yet, Erik is a changed man and violence is not anymore an option for him.
So in the days that follow, Erik endures the torturous ploys of the council. The only curtain of safety that protects him is his membership to the swimming team. But when the council turns to attack his meek roommate Pierre and his love interest Marja, Erik unleashes the monster in him again. Will violence win over violence? Can anger hidden for so long be a more terrifying evil? And will Erik defeat the evil in him, in his school, and in his home?
Street gangs, ruthless and rowdy alpha boys, and ghetto fraternities are some common images we see in movies about teen bullying. Evil is not exception as it depicts stereotypical scenarios about the subject matter. However, the story is told skilfully and decisively, unravelling suspenseful events one after another, developing the characters subtly and gently. It’s impressive how the main protagonist moved from being the bully, then to the rebel hero, and then back to the savage monster. It’s quite frustrating that he reverted to his old ways to solve his plight, that his principles and reasonable defiance are found futile against the towering enemies. That would have been a more romantic and gallant twist. But what the heck, life is not always about chivalry and appeals to reason. There are situations where one must fight fire with fire, that brutal and heartless means can produce the desired peace and harmony.
Director Mikael Hafstrom produced a masterpiece with Evil. From beginning to end, the movie is mesmerizing, stirring a colloidal mixture of hate and pity in the viewer’s heart. Andreas Wilson is also perfect as Erik Ponti, as if the character was specifically tailored for him. His adorable boyishness, as well as obvious machismo, provided the exact image of a bully turning into a prey.
The movie is both critically and financially successful. As of April 2014, it received 68% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and 7.9/10 at IMDb. It was also Sweden’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards, yet lost to Canada’s The Barbarian Invasions.