Based on author Jan Guillou's best-selling semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, Ondskan (Evil) is a tale of a young 16 year old rebellious teen, standing up against the bullies at a private boarding school. On the surface, Ondskan might appear to be just one of the many films based on high-school bullying, but manages to be a far more matured cinematic presentation than most of it's peers.
Directed by Mikael Håfström, Ondskan (Evil) was a huge commercial and critical success in Sweden. It captured international attention with it's nomination in the Best Foreign Film category at the 2004 Academy Awards, which eventually went to the French Canadian film The Barbarian Invasions. Domestically, it was the winner of three Guldbagge Awards, including Best Film.
The movie's initial premise is fairly straight-forward. Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson) is a student at a state public school who loves to beat people to pulp. The behavior probably influenced by the regular lashings he receives from his sadistic step-father, while her doting but helpless mother (Marie Richardson) keys away at the piano to drown out the sound of these beatings. As expected, Erik gets expelled for his behavior and with virtually no chance of getting into another state school in Stockholm. Left with no choice, his mother has to sell off her valuables to finance Erik's enrollment in an expensive private boarding school at Stjärnsberg, where the senior pupil dictate terms and punish disobedience with brutal severity.
Mikael Håfström doesn't shy away from showcasing the horror of these events and tend to be rather graphic at times, adding to the intensity of the film. In the midst of this turbulence, he has the friendship of a nerdy kid Pierre Tanguy (Henrik Lundström) whose friendly advice for Erik is - "be ordinary, don't stick out" and the Gandhian philosophy of taking on the bullies with non-violence. He also finds a mentor in the form of a amicable swimming coach Bergvall (Rustan Blomqvist) who encourages him to channel his aggression to take on the council of seniors in the swimming pool.
But Erik's biggest challenge are not the bullies, but himself as he tries to confront the tormentors, but also refrain from giving them an excuse to get himself expelled, and leave his mother (the only person he really cares about) disappointed. There's also a brief romantic sub-plot that plays with Erik's evolving sensibilities. Andreas Wilson's brooding intensity will have you wondering at Eric Ponti's next move, adding dimensions of a taut thriller, filled with suspense, to the drama. It's a tight rope he has to walk, and so does the movie. Ondskan (Evil) combines sensibilities expected from a foreign import, but also tidy mainstream elements to appeal to the public at large.