An adaptation of Jan Guillou’s semi-autobiographical novel, which went on to become an Oscar-nominated film in 2003,
Evil is storytelling at its best.
Erik (Jesper Arin, who also directs) is repeatedly beaten by his father, until his criminal activities at school leads to expulsion and he’s sent away to boarding school. There, a system of “peer mentoring” gives older students a reign of violence over the rest of the school, and Erik attempts to break the system.
The school that Guillo’s novel is based on, Stjärnsberg, closed down in the 70s, but as recently as 2013 Lundsberg Skola (described as “the Eton of Sweden”) was forced to close temporarily after an initiation ritual hospitalised two children. Not only is systematic bullying in boarding schools (in Sweden and no doubt closer to home) far from a thing of the past, but Stjärnsberg acts as a microcosm for tyranny, and Erik’s attempts to stand up to his tormentors become a searching analysis of the ethics of protest, especially when his best friend Pierre becomes the target of the bullies’ violence.
Arin is somehow perfect for the role of Erik, conveying the character’s fundamental decency but also the steely thought patterns and easy recourse to violence that allow him to get through his brutal childhood. He is utterly believable as an adult Erik looking back on events, subtly and delicately capturing the impact Erik’s suffering would have on his personality as an adult.
His performance is understated, instead relying on vibrant storytelling rather than visceral displays of emotion. The gruesome details of Benny Haag’s adaptation of the novel speak for themselves, and are effectively underplayed in moments like when Arin affably opens his monologue with a detailed description of child beating. When Arin does want to make an emotional impression, he does so with simplicity and efficiency – through the winces, as he relives blow after blow.
Evil is storytelling at its best and its tale of violence and oppression will leave you gripped and appalled in equal measure. Arin is utterly superb in a conversational and naturalistic performance that beautifully realises Erik’s complex character.