It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I can't recall a juvenile home in a movie that wasn't hell on earth. Both boarding schools and detention centers seem to attract sadists among the inmates and the administrators, and there's always at least one sex offender on the staff. "King of Devil's Island" is an effective drama set in Norway in 1915, where the mostly harmless boys are subjected to regimented punishment. Why are physical and mental cruelty considered to be rehabilitating?
A big-budget film that set box-office records in its homeland, the movie tells a story more or less predictable, even though it's said to be based on the real story of one of the two times in history that the Norwegian army fired on civilians. Set on Bastoy Island in a fjord near Oslo, the prison is said to be escape-proof. To this prison comes the teenager Erling (Benjamin Helstad), rumored among the boys to have committed murder while employed as a harpooner on a whaling ship. Like the other boys, he's dehumanized by being given a number in place of his name.
He becomes C-19 in the C Barracks. The dorm leader is C-1 (Trond Nilssen), who's scheduled to be released. He's told by Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgard), the school governor, that he has a good chance of becoming C-1 himself. But C-19 doesn't follow rules. He doesn't misbehave for pleasure, but out of a sense of injustice. It becomes clear to him that the dorm master Brathen (Kristoffer Joner) is sexually abusing the small and weak C-5 (Magnus Langlete) every night in the laundry room.
Does Bestyreren, the governor, suspect what is happening? C-19 bravely tells him what he knows, and the information is not welcomed. Nevertheless, he calls in Brathen and pointedly asks him why he is still working at the institution after nine years. A young man with his abilities and prospects should set his sights higher, the governor says; there's no future in being a dorm master and living alone on an isolated island.