- Domestic Premiere: 13 November 2015
- International Premiere: Spain (Stiges Film Festival) – 9 October 2015
A low budget Swedish horror film strongly influenced by Brian de Palma’s/Stephen King’s Carrie and seasoned with a little Let the Right One In.
An angry hooded girl takes revenge on those who cross her BFF. Plus, there’s a lot of swearing and not enough scares.
If you’re a true horror fan or simply want to discover more Scandinavian horror then it’s worth a watch. It did make me want to read the graphic novel, too.
Alena is director Daniel Di Grado’s feature-length film debut. It’s based on Kim W. Anderson’s comic book of the same name and was initially screened on Swedish television network SVT as part of the Moving Sweden project.
The story follows the emotionally introverted teenager Alena as she struggles to find her identity within an ‘all-girls’ boarding school. She’s not popular and all she wants to be is accepted by someone, but this is tough as queen-bee lacrosse bitch Filippa rules the roost. Filippa doesn’t know how to be anything other than spoilt and popular; that’s all she’s known and when the mysterious Lena comes along and shows real talent in the lacrosse team – of which Filippa is captain – she becomes jealous and sets out to ruin Alena’s life. Moreover, Lena becomes friends with Filippa’s more bohemian, down-to-earth friend Fabienne and this really ticks her off. What Filippa and her friends do not know is that Alena has someone on her side, and if you mess with her you’re seriously going to get!
Alena is full of classic and cult horror references including Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) and Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den ratte komma in (2008). It also alludes to the American teen high school films, particular those of the unpopular girl meets popular gang such as 2004’s Mean Girls. If you look carefully there are even books by the legendary master of horror Stephen King sitting on bookshelves. Despite these classic references – which give the film a lot of promise – Alena falls relatively flat. It’s predictable and relatively laugh-out-loud. The ‘secret’ behind the identity of Alena’s mysterious friend is obvious right from the start – or perhaps that’s me being too critical as a horror lover. Having never read the comic book, I shouldn’t judge too much. Alena does in fact deal with some very critical, contemporary issues of sexuality, but this is personally taken too far when queen bee Filippa mouths of and refers to almost everyone as [insert the most derogatory term from female genitalia you can think of here]. Too much!
It was quite refreshing to see an (almost) all girl cast, and lead actress Amalia Holm is quite excellent in the role despite being a bit stiff. She plays Alena with such stillness that you sometimes wonder if she’s a time bomb waiting to go off, and Holm’s pale complexion against her dark gothic style haircut communicates her innocence and purity with a touch of the unexplained and dark past that continues to haunt her. Felice Jankell is also stunning as the beautiful and free-spirited Fabienne. The relationship between Fabienne and Alena is dealt with very sensitively and at times it was quite moving. Molly Nutley plays the ‘bitch from hell’ role with such force that it borders on caricature. The more the film advances the more annoying her role becomes.
One scare worth mentioning, and to which I thought was the most terrifying moment of all, takes place in the girl’s locker room. Filippa and co. attempt to coerce another lacrosse player into assaulting Alena. The scene is excruciatingly painful to watch as it’s unsure as to whether this other shy lacrosse member will actually attack Alena sexually with a lacrosse stick or rape her. Filippa and her friends step outside and lock the girls in the changing room, shouting at the poor innocent lacrosse girl manipulated by Filippa. This girl begins kissing Alena and everything gets uncomfortable. It’s as if Alena just lets it happen; as if in some way she deserves it but what can she really do? The door is locked and she must see this moment through – both must see this through to avoid Filippa’s controlling nature.
At times Alena comes through with a god scare, but unfortunately they are relatively few and far between. Some of the serious themes of sexuality become moments of laughable grunge horror and are completely out of tune with the more sentimental aspects of love in the film. Overall, the film is actually quite promising and original to boot. Di Grado and his team have carefully chosen an array of classic and cult films through which to communicate their desire to produce a Swedish cult horror flick. However, the film is possibly too predictable for this.