J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Alena: Mean Swedish Girls

If mean girls watched more horror movies, it would do more to curtail bullying than all the collective PSAs and after-school specials ever produced. A passing familiarity with Carrie might make them think twice about hassling the girl who transferred midway through the term, after the “incident” at their old school. At least, Alena is trading up from plebeian public school to a tony boarding school. That actually makes it harder for the rather intense day-student to fit in with her well-heeled peers in Daniel di Grado’s Alena (trailer here), which releases today on DVD from the Kimstim Collection/Icarus Films.

Unlike Filippa, the campus queen bee, Alena is definitely not blonde. She makes a good faith effort to make friends, but Filippa and her flunkies are having none of that. However, Alena has at least one defender: Josefin, her BFF at her previous school. Unfortunately, Josefin is rather a bad influence, for several reasons. She has a quick temper and co-dependent tendencies. She also happens to be dead.

When Alena’s talent for lacrosse comes to light, she starts to be a threat to Filippa’s clique. However, the team captain really starts to resent Alena when the newcomer develops a sexually ambiguous friendship with Fabienne, the only girl rich and cool enough to disregard Filippa and her posse. Seething with her own sexually confused jealousy, Filippa plots Alena’s downfall, but Josefin has plans of her own.

Adapted from a Swedish graphic novel, the current feature version of Alena was expanded from di Grado’s one-hour television special. Frankly, you can’t see any padding. The general arc will be immediately familiar to most horror fans, but di Grado keeps the tension and sexual angst cranked to impressive levels. He and co-screenwriters Kerstein Gezelius and Alexander Onofri also maintain a fair degree of uncertainty regarding Josefin’s true nature: supernatural or psychological.

Amalia Holm’s sensitive yet creepy performance as Alena also keeps us from jumping to snap conclusions. She holds our sympathies while making us uncomfortable. She also develops some suitably hesitant but potent chemistry with Fabienne, played by the charismatic Felice Jankell, who seems like the surest bet in the ensemble to attain Hollywood crossover success.

Although Alena uses various horror movie conventions, the most horrifying scenes involve very terrestrial forms of bullying. Apparently, Swedish girls’ schools are not for the faint of heart. Who knew? Recommended for fans of horror movies that come in school uniforms, Alena is now available on DVD at all major online retailers.

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