Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The Substitute (2008)
Hailing from Denmark and distributed stateside by Ghosthouse Underground, The Substitute (aka Vikaren) is surprisingly NOT your typical evil-teacher-terrorizing-students horror film. Instead, it is a refreshingly tense and exciting movie that defied my preconceived notions.
One warning about watching this film, though – make sure you turn off the god-awful English dubbing and instead watch it in its original language with the English subtitles on. The dubbing is horrible and just ruins the film. Consider yourself warned!
The film begins with a narrator telling us that Earth is the only planet that has the complexities of “love,” and an alien race wants to figure out what all the fuss is about and if love is truly the most powerful weapon of all. So, an alien life force travels down to Earth, lands on a poultry farm and takes over a woman’s body to try and figure out what “love” is all about – and hopefully take some specimens of humans back to the home planet to plan Earth’s demise.
Meanwhile, in a nearby town, young Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) is mourning the death of his mother, along with his father Jesper (Ulrich Thomsen) and young sister Sofie (Olivia Stenderup Garre). Carl is a loner in his six grade class, often bullied by the bigger students. When Carl’s class learns that their teacher will be out sick for the next few weeks, they are ecstatic, thinking they can just slack off and take it easy. When their substitute arrives, though, they are in for a nasty surprise. Their substitute, Ulla Harms (Paprika Steen), seems to have the ability to read minds and tells them that she intends to whip them into academic shape…with some very aggressive, mean tactics. The kids sense that something isn’t right about Ulla, and they soon discover the terrifying truth about her.
Can Carl and his classmates convince their parents that Ulla isn’t human before it’s too late?
Ok, I know that the synopsis does no justice to the film, instead making it sound like a Faculty rip-off, but believe me when I say that this Substitute is a much better, very different film! The story, written by Ole Bornedal (who also directed) and Henrik Prip, has the perfect balance of suspense, humor and horror. I really enjoyed the development of the characters, especially Carl. The death of Carl’s mother really adds depth and pathos to the story. That, in turn, is balanced by the humor that comes into play with Carl’s classmates and Ulla’s character. Ulla’s character is both terrifying and amusing, especially when she tortures the kids in such a quick, nonchalant attitude! And I love the kids reactions – “You’re a teacher! You’re not supposed to say that!” There is one scene where the kids break into Ulla’s house and catch her eating a live chicken that is just priceless! The great thing about the scene is that it is both extremely tense and hilarious!
The acting is also a wonderful surprise. Fans of Danish cinema will recognize Paprika Steen and Ulrich Thomsen who play Ulla and Carl’s father Jesper, respectively. They were recently both in the critically acclaimed Fear Me Not and they both shine in this film as well. Steen is terrific as Ulla, whether she is snapping orders at the kids or pulling the wool over the parent’s eyes as to what she really is. She gives a very menacing yet entertaining performance! Jonas Wandschneider as Carl also gave a stellar performance, bringing lots of different emotions to his damaged yet spunky character. And all of the kids in the film were just awesome! Each brought their own distinct personalities to their performances and came across as very natural!
Though this movie hardly spills any blood, I thought the special FX, especially one revealing Ulla’s true tentacled nature, were well done! In addition, a mysterious photograph, a shiny sphere that things crawl out of and some shapeshifting all make for some tense, exciting moments. There is no gore and precious little amounts of blood, but this film just didn’t need those things to make it entertaining. It’s fun and original on its own without needing too much red.
I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable The Substitute was. It doesn’t seem that in Hollywood they make too many horror films with young kids as the protagonists, so right off the bat the film felt unique. Also, it really was a great mix of horror and humor. I was on the edge of my seat yet laughing my ass off at the same time! Now that’s entertainment, folks! I hear that there are already plans for remaking this film, so get out there and see it NOW! Accept no substitutions for The Substitute!
(Just remember to turn the dubbing OFF!!)
Available from Amazon!