We take a look at this bleak but compelling Swedish drama…
If you thought Sweden was a dour place at the best of times, try it when you’re a teenager just getting out of juvie for a terrible crime. And no, it’s not one of those cop-outs where he’s been wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit: young John absolutely did commit his crime, and his attitude towards it is ambivalent. There aren’t a great number of scenes of him crying or wishing he could take back what he did; mostly he just wants to move on with his life, which makes it all the more impressive when Ulrik Munther’s performance makes you root for him in spite of everything. It isn’t a big performance, and it isn’t even a likeable one; rather, he plays it like a genuine teen, charm-free and awkward. But society’s giving him a second chance, and of course you hope it won’t go to waste, so when he’s constantly bullied at school, you find yourself not siding with the bullies, as much as you realise they’re only acting very reasonably considering the enormous impact of his terrible crime. It’s only when Malin, the archetypal grumpy-punk-with-a-golden-heart, enters his life, the only person at school willing to talk to him, that you start to see how almost impossible his own actions have made any sort of functional relationship. She’s a nice girl, and he’s the same rage-filled, problematic young man he was before.
Director Magnus von Horn makes excellent use of space in the traditional Swedish way; imprisoned as much by tight, dingy interior spaces as by oppressively enormous landscapes, the film offers as little hope as does John’s condition. Von Horn’s script is similarly purposeful, with a parallel situation involving John’s grandfather, rendered dependent by old age but still unwanted. It’s an unkind world, and one in which even those who fit in don’t seem to find any joy. John’s father does almost nothing but look after his farm and look after his sons, the younger of whom actually does succeed in making friends with a gang of older boys who are bigger shits than he is. It’s about the best anyone can hope for here, though you may left wondering why John wasn’t simply relocated to another town, under another name. The idea, perhaps, is to allow the guilty party a chance at redemption, a chance to regain the life they enjoyed before their crime. And there is a nobility in being able to show so much kindness to a soul so lost – but, at the same time, the feelings of the innocent are important too. None of this is to say that the film sidelines the feelings of the victims. It’s very much interested in a discussion about where society goes in the aftermath of terrible crimes, how best to heal – but it offers no easy answers. It’s a bleak world that’s presented here, and more than likely it’s one you’ll be glad to leave, but it exerts enough of an unusual fascination to be well worth a visit.
The Here After opens today (11th March) in cinemas, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!