Paprika Steen - Ulla
Ulrich Thomsen - Jesper
Jonas Wandschneider - Carl
Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok - Phillip
Emma Juel Justesen - Rikke
Mollie Maria Gilmartin - Lotte
Josephine Gents - Camilla
Emma Claudia Sondergaard - Laura
Jakob Fals Nygaard - Albert
Genre - Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
PLOT - THE SUBSTITUTE [a.k.a. VIKAREN] is about a Danish group of sixth-graders who receive a substitute teacher who is out of this world. Troublesome children, they get a rude awakening when they meet Ms. Ulla Harms (Paprika Sheen), who insults these children and puts them through physical tests that would make any Olympic Gymnastic Coach blush. Not only is Ulla a tough bitch, but she can also read minds and know your entire personal history just by looking at you. A woman who knows it all - my worst fear come true.
Anyway, Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) is still mourning the death of his mother and has no time for Ulla's tricks. Knowing that something is not quite right about his new teacher, Carl convinces his classmates to help him find out the truth while Ulla endears herself to the entire neighborhood. What the kids find out is that Ulla is really an alien and she has really messed up plans for the kids that involve chickens for some reason.
STORY - THE SUBSTITUTE is an interesting sci-fi/horror hybrid. The story is always interesting, even when you know what's pretty much going to happen. From Ulla's arrival [killing a chicken no less] to Carl's struggle with blaming himself for his mother's death to Ulla integrating herself not only into the neighborhood but Carl's personal life as well, the story always esculates and keeps you glued to see how things will play out. I think the characters here are exceptionally strong, especially the characters of Carl and the rest of the students. It's great to see someone writing kids as kids instead of adults trapped in a kid's body. They all have distinct personalities and are extremely likeable. I thought Carl was a character who was written great, as his guilt and his stance to sort of remain an outsider while playing leader at the same time was refreshing to watch.
I also dug the black comedy aspect of the film. Ulla has to be one of the meanest and nuttiest bitches in movie history next to Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in MOMMIE DEAREST. Her schizophrenic mannerisms and her outbursts towards children had me laughing. Talk about verbal child abuse.
The dialogue was outstanding too. It was extremely credible and believable, even though the circumstances were anything but. You understand who the characters are. You get a cohesive narrative. Sure there were some plot holes here and there but I didn't really think about them until a few days after watching the film. So the screenplay was pretty strong, I thought.
I, however, didn't understand the concept of the chickens in this film. I dunno, maybe I missed that part during one of my many "blonde moments", but the whole thing didn't really work for me. Unless they were zombie chickens, but I didn't see Lloyd Kaufman around anywhere. Hmmm...
DIRECTION - Ole Bornedal knows how to direct a flick. The cinematography was absolutely stunning, as everything seemed to be very dim or grey in color. Sort of depressing, but I thought it added to the doom and gloom of the situation, as well as to Carl's feelings about his guilt. Very metaphorical. I also loved the slow motion scenes and the editing style. It created a ton of suspense and tension. Even the CGI special effects weren't too bad here either. I liked the visuals here alot.
VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - Unless you count violence on chickens to be "The Good Stuff", then you're out of luck. Pretty tame film for the most part.
ACTING - Fantastic! Paprika Steen was awesome as Ulla. She was funny and I loved her body language during certain scenes where her mood would change out of the blue. She had that bitchy evil stare down to a tee. I really dug her alot. Ulrich Thomsen, who was fantastic in another film from Denmark called BRODRE [BROTHERS], was cool here too. Very subtle and low key performance. And while all the children actors were great [they were never annoying - how rare!], Jonas Wandschneider as Carl was incredible. I bought his grief. I bought his confusion. Shit, I was mourning along with him. He was so damn convincing and I rarely see any child actors grab a viewer as Wandschneider did me. What an incredible cast.
MUSIC - Marco Beltrami created a killer score here. Kind of eerie. Kind of sorrowful. It fit the film very well.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE SUBSTITUTE [VIKAREN] was a pleasant surprise. I really was not expecting much with this one but I really enjoyed this film a great deal. I have a soft spot for films where young people gang together to solve a mystery [eg. THE GOONIES, THE MONSTER SQUAD]. Great acting. Great direction. Cool CGI. And a better than good story that wasn't perfect but did it's job well. I suggest watching this film in its original Danish language because the dubbing was terrible for this one - although you'll probably laugh at the adult dubbers posing as children. Either way, I recommend this one. Pretty cool sci-fi flick.