Not even a film as colossally absurd as Crash dares to completely sum up its entire train of thought in its one-word title, but such is the insult this 2005 Oscar nominee from Sweden commits. Director Mikael Håfström confuses bluntness for poetry and range—it’s why his film is titled Evil and not, say, Rebel Without a Cause. Seen side by side, Nicholas Ray’s film is the work of a man who likes to chew his food; conversely, the vulgarity and heavy-handedness of Evil suggests its maker would rather insert his food directly into his intestines through a hole in his stomach.
Håfström conveys “big” messages about the nature of good and evil with all the nuance of a Mentos commercial. In the first shot of the film alone, the camera pulls back to reveal a family dinner that ends with the story’s Abercrombie & Fitch beefcake, Erik (Andreas Wilson), getting violently slapped in the face by his stepfather. Cut to the boy beating the living daylights out of a schoolyard enemy. The point of these two cheaply interlocked scenes is to illustrate that evil begets more evil—a facile message that gets a major work out when Erik is sent to a reclusive boarding school for boys. Exposed to all sorts of evil he never knew existed, will Eric succumb to the caste system that favors a Germanic rich-boy contingency or channel his rage to fight not only them but the vestiges of Nazism that lingers in the air?
The film’s impossible direction is matched only by the impossible dialogue, which is lesson-y and abounds in clichés: “The less you stick out the better,” advises Erik’s tubby roommate Tanguy (Henrik Lundström), the Velma to his Daphne; a teacher later instructs that “the ability to know the difference between good and evil” is what separates humans from animals; and after being humiliated by the monstrous Silverhielm (Gustaf Skarsgård), Tanguy wonders, “He’s an evil human being. But why? Was he born like that or has he been here too long, maybe beaten as well…” Who needs to question the cruelties of the world when a director makes all the inquiries for you?!
Is there a consensus for this kind of trash? Maybe gay men, women, and fetishists will appreciate Håfström’s obsession with Wilson’s body—the young man spends much of the film either swimming in the school’s pool, getting spanked by his stepfather without his shirt on, or getting callously doused with buckets of cold and hot water (fret not—the kitchen lady soothes the savage pain by allowing him to knead her breast!). If it says something about us that we’d rather see the film’s evil heaped upon Erik instead of the tubby Tanguy, that’s not a preference Håfström wishes to indict along with the school’s Naziesque syllabus. If anying, he approves, precipitates, and encourages the thought, suggesting a better name for the film might have been Pervert.