Graphic Horror: Alena
I find it interesting the films that I tend to come across from time to time. I enjoy watching films from other countries as they tend to be quite different from most of the mainstream superhero movies and it gives myself and this site a chance to branch out. What I find most interesting is that this would be the second Swedish film that I’ve covered here, and while both films are in different genres, both this and We Are the Best feature a cast filled with young women who have unusual haircuts and are on the fringe of their school’s society. But Alena isn’t forming a punk band with her two friends, instead she’s trying to make any friends at all in a new boarding school while also dealing with some ghosts of her past. This film also deals with bullying in a way that I haven’t really seen in quite this way before, but it deals with other elements in a way that I have many times over. And as this film deals with things that aren’t exactly how they may appear at first, I will be discussing those elements in my review so here’s your spoiler warning.
While the poster of the film with Alena covered in blood holding a pair of sharp scissors lets you in on the fact that this is more or less a horror movie, the horror element does take a long while to come into play. For most of this film, it’s more of a teen drama that showcases Alena trying to fit into this new school and finding resistance from the trio of popular girls led by the rich, blonde, head of the lacrosse team Filippa. But she also has a friend from her old school Josefin who we are introduced to when she steals some hair dye for Alena to make her hair blonde like the other popular girls. But instead, she dies her hair black.
Now, one thing that has changed in the landscape of film in the past several years is the increase of the imaginary character. It’s a trope that likely became more popular after the success of Fight Club and the Sixth Sense so whenever there’s a character that only interacts with the main character, there’s an increased suspicion that said character might only exist in their own head. In this movie, the suspicion came right after the hair dying scene and was furthered by each interaction with Josefin and the other girls as Josefin appears as a protector of Alena until it becomes something darker. There are hints early on that Josefin might be a ghost, especially when we learn that she had committed suicide before Alena’s transfer. But it wasn’t a big surprise when it was revealed to be Alena pretending to be Josefin the entire time. I will say that this is a case where my own exposure or even over-exposure to these types of double identity movies clouds my judgement of how this movie represents it, and it does handle the twist well enough, just not well enough for someone like me.
Where this film does fare better is in terms of how it handles bullying. Alena isn’t just the new girl in school, she’s also the poor girl in the rich boarding school. Not only that, but she also tries to more or less force her way into becoming friends with the popular girls. She joins the lacrosse team and Filippa suffers the consequences of her bullying. Even when Filippa is the one who is injured after an odd lesbian-esque hazing for the second lowest girl on the totem pole Lollo, she is still the one who gets in trouble with the school. And the bullying story all comes together after Filippa breaks into Alena’s house, steals racy polaroids of her and Josefin and shares them with the entire class. But instead of the entire class joining in on making fun of Alena, they instead turn against Filippa’s crazed actions. But it also doesn’t go so far as to make it a happy ending where the students boo Filippa and cheer Alena, instead it’s more realistic with just a bunch of kids at a party staring at Filippa in stunned silence with slight looks of disgust and confusion on their faces.
There’s also a story of friendship and love that’s woven throughout this film as initially the only friend that Alena makes at her new school is Fabienne who seems to be more of a free spirit, and yet also relatively popular. Their friendship grows, but there’s also a thread of jealousy with Josefin. There’s also hints at more of a lesbian relationship, but the film keeps it in friendship territory until nearly the very end, when Alena has helped win the lacrosse finals and they leave the party to consummate their relationship in a private room just before it’s revealed that Alena also had a similar relationship with Josefin. Fabienne herself is a great character even though she’s not really given a lot of depth. She’s almost just presented as a nearly perfect character without any real flaws. She’s just a good friend and foil for Alena.
In the end, this film is supposed to be a horror movie, and while much more of the time is spent with the drama elements, the horror elements are handled well. There is a subtlety to the horror, like with the first reveal of Josefin as being dead where she becomes more zombielike and threatening towards Alena. The attacks also work quite well, as we see Josefin in her pulled down hoodie and long, dark hair covering her face. The attacks usually happen quite quickly and then she leaves. It also has a tragic ending, fitting for a horror film, and one of the better moments of end credits where we get to see Alena and Fabienne together, small in frame next to the credits as they roll on. The cinematography in general is handled well, with many scenes bathed in bright red light to heighten the unreality of it, but it also spends a lot of time making Alena and the other characters look small in frame, shooting them from a distance. While I did have a few issues with this film, I enjoyed a lot more than I disliked and I would recommend this film to anyone who would like to see a good teen drama/horror/romance. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.