by Rob Gonsalves
The Swedish horror drama 'Alena' is an awfully slow burn. Normally Iâ€™m behind that, but this movie makes its earlier countryman 'Let the Right One In' seem like an explosion in a chimpanzee factory.It feels a bit padded out, perhaps because it was: It began as a 59-minute piece for Swedish TV, then got expanded a bit to feature length. Despite that, I recommend it to fans of Let the Right One In: the sullen, angsty mood is well sustained, the performances are on point, and the movie applies artsy touches to scenes that could have been sleazy retro exploitation. Well, they kind of are anyway, but itâ€™s amusing to see them accomplished with Bergmanesque somberness.
"It gets there eventually."
Amalia Holm carries the movie as the eponymous Alena, a disturbed teenager whoâ€™s just been transferred to a ritzy boarding school. There she swiftly runs afoul of resident bully Filippa (Molly Nutley), the schoolâ€™s star lacrosse player, whose rich dad contributes a lot to the schoolâ€™s funding. Not only is Alena a potential threat to Filippaâ€™s standing on the team, she also attracts the cool loner Fabienne (Felice Jankell), whom Filippa wants for herself. The level of same-sex yearning here may satisfy those who enjoyed Lost and Delirious and The Moth Diaries, though those films were helmed by women and Alena was directed by a man, Daniel di Grado, who seems to have jettisoned almost every male character except a fleetingly seen kid and the lacrosse teamâ€™s easily intimidated coach.
What tips Alena into the neighborhood of horror is its treatment of a mysterious character from Alenaâ€™s past â€” Josefin (Rebecka Nyman), who follows Alena everywhere and who is, to say the least, more than first meets the eye. Josefin seems to bring violence whenever she shows up, especially in a potentially icky scene in which another of Alenaâ€™s classmates is confined in a locker room with Alena. Is she real, a ghost, or simply Alenaâ€™s mind luxuriating in her guilt? Could be all three, though the rules of her influence on her surroundings are murky.
The movie takes its time, creates its own chilly world run by female angels and demons. Alena is both, and Amalia Holmâ€™s performance is properly uningratiating. She makes Alena an avatar for repressed, abused youth, like Carrie White in all her iterations, or Angela Bettisâ€™ May. Innocence of a sort is represented not by the filmâ€™s namesake but by the rich Fabienne, who doesnâ€™t care about Filippaâ€™s mean-girl games and who appreciates Alenaâ€™s gauche outsider aura, complete with chopped-up hair dyed black, which might be a nod to Swedish goth-geek goddess Lisbeth Salander in either of her iterations.
Alena on some level is a compilation of tropes and influences, a calling card for its first-time cowriter/director. It wonâ€™t dazzle anyone with its originality. But itâ€™s a sturdy, carefully wrought calling card with considerable feeling for its wounded subjects, and thatâ€™s not nothing. Di Grado has a sense of compassion for these troubled girls, even the destructive and conniving Filippa.Eventually the movie leans more heavily towards drama than horror, which is fine; itâ€™s just the characters facing up to the consequences of their actions. The horror derives from pain and grief reaching from the past into the present.
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originally posted: 05/19/17 14:20:46