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Film / Evil (2003)

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Evil (Ondskan) is a 2003 drama film from Sweden directed by Mikael Hafstrom.

It is based on writer Jan Guillou's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name from 1981.

Erik (Andreas Wilson) is a young teenager in 1950s Sweden. His stepfather is a cruel and vicious man who beats him. Some time passes, and Erik grows into a troubled young man, regularly getting to fights at school as he takes the violence regularly inflicted on him out on others. He is expelled, with the headmaster at his school calling him "evil".

His mother remains desperate to get him graduated, so she sells some art that she has in the house and raises enough money to send him to prep school. Unfortunately the prep school, Stjärnsberg, is hardly an improvement. The school is dominated by the senior Sixth Form students, twelve of whom form a Students' Council. The boys of the Students' Council are sadistic martinets, who inflict painful corporal punishments for petty offenses like using a curse word at lunch. Erik refuses to submit to their petty humiliations, causing the sixth form students, led by the monstrous Otto Silverheilm (Gustaf Skarsgård) to repeatedly ratchet up their cruelty and brutality. Events gradually spiral out of control.


  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: The student council at the prep school can organize fights where older students beat younger students half to death, and no one in the school administration cares.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The teachers at the prep school are shockingly indifferent to the torture, beatings, and violence going on under their noses. In one scene Otto is pounding away at Erik's face until Erik is drenched with blood and both Otto and the walls are splattered with it. Marja screams, which finally rouses the headmaster, Mr. Lindblad, who ambles into the cafeteria and tells Otto to knock it off. And that's all that he does.
    • The one person who does seem to mind is the PE teacher, who wants Erik on the swim team. He promises that he'll protect Erik and calls it "a matter of honor". He does nothing.
  • Answer Cut: Erik is told that he'll have to face Otto in "the ring". Erik says "What bloody ring?" Cut to the concrete square on the school grounds, where Pierre explains that this is where the sixth form students beat the hell out of people.
  • Big Bad: Otto Silverhielm is the nasty, vicious leader of the Student Council and the Gang of Bullies who abuses his position to bully other more defenceless students. When Erik resists Otto's tyranny, Otto does everything to provoke Erik.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Jesus. Sometimes, the Sixth Form students will take younger boys into the "ring", actually just a concrete square in the courtyard. There older bullies like Otto and Dalen will beat younger students to a pulp, while the other boys stand around in a circle screaming "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!". Dahlen burns Erik with a cigarette. Otto and his goons throw a bucket of human waste into Erik and Pierre's room. It's entirely routine for the sixth form students to humiliate the younger students in the cafeteria by whacking them on the head with butter knives.
  • Brainy Brunette: Pierre is one of the smartest students at the school.
  • The Chain of Harm: Pierre speculates on what made Otto such a brutal sociopath, suggesting that it's probably because he himself was victimized when he was a younger student at the school. Pierre thinks the cycle will go on forever. At the end Erik breaks the cycle, first by passing up a chance to pulverize a terrified Otto, and then calling in a lawyer to force changes in the school.
  • Dirty Coward: For his acting high and mighty, Otto Silverhielm proves to be a pushover when Erik confronts him when he is alone in the woods without his Gang of Bullies to back him up. When Erik threatens to kill him, his smug bravado instantly disappears, and he breaks down in tears, throws up in fear, and pathetically begs for his life.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After a lot of pain and suffering, Eric graduates, then goes home and throws his horrendous stepfather out of the house. He ends the movie by starting out on a path to law school.
  • Evil Teacher: Mr. Melander. He's not much of an antagonist, but despite the novel taking place after the events of World War II, he is a believer in National Socialism and during his lessons in racial biology he praises the Germanic ethnicity and even condemns Pierre for his southern-European characteristics.
  • Evil Is Petty: The bullies more often than not only start to torment other in various way just because they can.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Otto appears sophisticated and charming once Erik first arrives to the school. It doesn't take long before he shows what a sadistic bully he really is.
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed Trope. Pierre points out that it is possible people like Otto weren't necessarily born evil, but they became what they are due to childhood abuse.
  • Gang of Bullies: The sociopathic members of the Student Council. They start out by whacking students on the head with bread knives and jabbing them in the scalp with vinegar dispensers. As Erik continues to refuse to submit to their punishments their actions grow more extreme, like jabbing cigarettes into Erik's chest, beating up Pierre, punching Erik in the cafeteria until the walls are splattered with blood, and more.
  • Hate Sink:
    • The Gang of Bullies, particularly Otto and Dahlén, are shown to be nothing but sadistic sociopaths who abuses their high position to bully the weak. And they aren't shown to have any redeeming qualities as well.
    • Erik's unnamed Stepdad is also shown to be nothing but a sadistic and condescending abuser in every scene he is in and he as well is a Dirty Coward when Erik finally makes resistance.
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: Otto pointing out that Erik always provoked him, while hypocritical, isn't completely untrue considering Erik's rebellious personality and that he arguably did make it worse by provoking Otto right back instead of at least just trying to make peace.
  • Identification by Dental Records: Invoked. Erik corners Otto and threatens to remove all his teeth so there would be nothing to identify after killing him. He doesn't go through with it.
  • Impairment Shot: The Sixth Form goons tie Erik down out in the open, soak him with water, and leave him there, presumably to freeze to death overnight. Erik is halfway to doing just that when he sees a blurry face above him. It's Marja, who saves him.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Otto attempts to invoke this when Erik threatens to kill him in the middle of the forest by pointing out that he only bullied Erik and his friends because "he always provoked him", but it falls flat as Otto started the whole conflict by abusing his high position and the fact that he was surrounded by his friends who could back him up to bully the weak and defenceless, and yet he is the one to say that he is the victim.
  • Kneel Before Zod: A heroic inversion. As Erik confronts Otto for all the bullying he has done when he is alone, he orders Otto to get down on his knees under the threat of beating him with a heavy branch if he doesn't oblige. A scared Otto immediately complies.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: By the ending, the bullies thoroughly get what they deserve.
  • Match Cut: An audio match cut from the slap of the belt, as Erik's stepfather beats him, to the sound of Erik's fists pounding the face of the boy at school that Erik is beating bloody.
  • Money Is Not Power: When Erik confronts Otto while he is alone in the woods and threatens to violently kill him, a scared Otto immediately begins to attempt to bargain with Erik, offering to give him 10.000 kroner note  if he just lets him leave unharmed. Erik just disdainfully scoffs at this, asking him: "10.000? Is that all you're worth?"
  • Off on a Technicality: A rare, not directly court-related version, and even one in favor of the protagonist. Mr. Lindblad, the headmaster of Stjärnsberg, expels Erik, using the letter from Maja that Otto stole as evidence to prove that he has had an inappropriate relationship with a staff member. Erik discusses his case with mother's friend, Mr. Ekengren, who is a lawyer. Mr. Ekengren points out that the school intercepting the letter in the first place constitutes a serious breach of Sweden's secrecy of correspondence laws, meaning that Erik has sufficient grounds to report the school to the police for mail theft. Mr. Ekengren goes with Erik to Mr. Lindblad to confront him over this, pointing out that it would be rather embarrassing him for both him and the school to be caught with a stolen letter, and that also he happens to be good friends with a journalist who would probably be interested in giving the case some extra publicity. Mr. Lindblad quickly realizes the pickle he is in; using the letter, the only evidence he has to base Erik's expulsion on, will also mean having to admit that he knowingly had a illegally intercepted letter in his possession. He begrudging agrees to have Erik reinstated, giving Maja's letter back, and pretend that the whole thing never happened.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Erik comes back home and tells his stepfather that he's going to beat him so badly that Stepdad will have a broken nose and won't be able to see. Tragically, the scene cuts away before Erik delivers his beatdown.
  • Oh, Crap!: Otto gets this when he sees Erik destroying Dalen and his goon two seconds flat when he finally accepts their fight-challange and then pointing a threatening finger at him, realizing that if Erik so wanted, he could've easily destroyed Otto physically at anytime and when that happens, there is nothing Otto can do to save himself...
  • One-Gender School: Erik attends a hellish prep school for boys. He does strikes up a relationship with Marja, one of the cafeteria workers who is around his own age.
  • Parental Abuse: Erik's stepfather is a cruel sadist who looks for any excuse to viciously whip him with a belt.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: When reading her good-bye letter, Otto makes fun of the fact that Marja is from Finland and has trouble with Swedish grammar.
  • School of Hard Knocks: Students beat the ever-loving crap out of each other in vicious organized fights, and the administration does not care.
  • Slow Clap: All the students applaud Erik for winning the swim meet. Then, after the applause ends, Otto starts clapping very slowly, all by himself, delivering the message that there will be consequences.
  • Stress Vomit: After bullying Erik through the entire story, Otto Silverhielm starts throwing up in fear, when Erik thoroughly turns the tables on him.
  • Time Passes Montage: Before things start really going downhill at the prep school, there's a montage showing relatively normal activities like Erik and Pierre running around in the halls, the Nazi teacher, Mr. Melander, teaching, and the kids playing soccer.
  • Title Drop: The headmaster at Erik's school says "There's only one word for people like you, and that is 'evil'."
  • To the Pain:
    • A variation: When Erik confronts Otto in the forest and threatens to kill him, Otto tries to get him to back off by telling him that he will never get away with it. Erik just coolly describes how he has already considered both how to dispose of any evidence of the crime and how to make sure that Otto's body will never be identified once he is done with him. This completely cows Otto who breaks down crying and vomiting in fear.
    • He does a more straight version to his abusive stepfather later, as he informs him that his rein of terror in the household is over, telling carefully him how he is going to hurt him and put fear into him.
      Erik: (fixing his stepfather with a Kubrick Stare) In half an hour you're going to be in the hospital. You won't be able to see, because your eyes will be too swollen. Your nosebone will be snapped, and your arms will be broken. You won't dare tell anyone. You'll say that you fell down the stairs.
  • Unishment: Most of the punishments that Otto and Dalen inflict on Erik are savage and cruel. But at one point they take away his weekend pass to go home... which allows him to avoid his troubled homelife and his abusive stepfather, and instead hang out all weekend with beautiful Marja, the cafeteria worker. Before the week is over the two of them are kissing in the grove of trees.
  • Villainous Breakdown: When Erik confronts Otto while latter is alone in the woods and threatens to kill him to pay him back for all the bullying he has done, Otto becomes so scared that his usual smugness instantly vanishes, he first tries to bribe Erik into letting him go and then pathetically begs him not to hurt him while crying and even vomiting.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: The family-unfriendly message at the end is that violence was the answer to crush the Gang of Bullies. Erik turns the other cheek for almost the entire movie, and his reward is to suffer horrific torture that ends with him nearly getting murdered, and his best friend Pierre is beaten to a pulp before leaving the school. However, once Erik does decide to start hurting people, he delivers an immensely satisfying beatdown to Dalen that ends in Dalen crawling out of the ring with a shattered nose. Just the threat of violence to Otto, whom Erik catches alone without his goon squad, results in Otto dropping to his knees and crying like a little girl before he pukes all over himself. Then at the end he goes home, tells his brutal stepfather that the stepfather has to leave the house, and then gives him a beating as well (offscreen).
  • Voiceover Letter: The letter Pierre leaves behind for Erik, revealing that he can't take it any more and has left the school.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Shown twice, both times involving Otto.
    • Erik reacts to the Sixth Form goons dumping a bucket of feces in his room by carefully scooping it all up into the bucket, sneaking into Otto's room, and dumping it on him. Otto starts puking on himself.
    • At the end Otto's stark terror at facing Erik causes him to once again vomit all over himself.