Review: THE SUBSTITUTE (aka VIKAREN)

Posted by Peter Hall - October 27th 2008 @ 11:55 pm

Directed by Ole Bornedal, 2007
Written by Ole Bornedal, Henrik Prip

There is a lot in this world I do not have a full grasp of.  Quantum computing, fluid dynamics, the undetermined arrival of The Singularity, chirality, and John McCain.  But the angry living dead aside, there is much I have taken the reins on, one area of which is the hybridization of horror and science fiction.  It is this fondness of the field that leads me to utter bafflement as to the existence of THE SUBSTITUTE, a great little film from Denmark.  It is a well made adaptation of an intelligent script about children and their alien substitute teacher (and yes, I too am pretty sure I owned an R. L. Stine book with this plot).  It is a lot of fun and I could recommend it to anyone.

My bewilderment has nothing to do with the movie, but the treatment of the movie.  Perhaps most baffling is the absence of a single review on them there Rotten Tomatoes.  I know critics and genre bloggers alike have gotten their mitts on the flick.  Their praise is what drew me to THE SUBSTITUTE in the first place, so why the curious void of more publicly available praise?  That’s okay, though.  Not a writer’s fault if a film is underexposed, just odd considering even fucking ICE SPIDERS has at least one review on the huge movie hub.

I further do not comprehend Ghost House Underground’s cover for their DVD.  Earth kind’s deductive reasoning would lead any half intelligible humanoid to assume THE SUBSTITUTE is a movie about ghosts.  It is not.  There is not a single ghost in the movie.  I don’t think anyone even says the word ghost throughout the 93 minute duration.  I know the default response to a marketing obstacle is to pull a bait-and-switch.  I minored in mass communications, I get the concept, but how about this, GHU?  Market it for what it is.  A wicked movie about an alien who terrorizes the middle schoolers of a small community.  Novel, I know.

And for the love of Advertising 101, get a better slug to throw on your DVD’s lame Photoshop cover.  I don’t know who the jerk is that said, “A clever version of THE FACULTY”, but they’re an asshole.  THE FACULTY is a clever movie.  Asshole.

I’m sorry, didn’t mean to pull a Ragin’ McCain there, I just don’t understand why you slum a release like this.  I suppose I should be happy a Danish sci-fi treat even gets a region one DVD.  I suppose I should be content that word spread to me that THE SUBSTITUTE was fun and I am now spreading word to you that THE SUBSTITUTE is fun.  But I’m tired of supposing in place of people who should either A) be better at their jobs or B) care about the movies they promote, particularly when the movie is worth caring about.

Bookended as a narrated fairy tale, THE SUBSTITUTE is, as mentioned, the story of a class of middle school children who are subjected to a new teacher when their previous one falls ill.  The teacher, played by Paprika Steen, is on earth to study what it is that makes humans love each other.  Not an original premise, granted, but the script’s adult take on the children’s dilemma is.  The teach soon ceases to hide her identity from the children, instead focusing on convincing parents that their children are crazy.  The best kind of childhood, investigate-the-creepy-neighbor hijinks ensue as the class is drawn inexorably towards the star woman’s kidnapping plot.

I hesitate to make the claim, as I hold the topic in such high regard, but I am sure that THE SUBSTITUTE will do for modern day Danish children what THE MONSTER SQUAD did for us Yanks in the ’80s.  It will give them a film to relate to, a children’s movie as intended for adults as it is for sponge imaginations.  One that never belittles its mature themes, where the 13 year olds on the screen talk and act just as the 13 year olds watching the screen.  They fight, they crack jokes, they are put in tangible danger.  They watch their teacher ravage live chickens.  Ya know, usual stuff.

Acting is charming across the board.  I wish I could single out all of the great child actors, but the language barrier is against me on this one.  I can pick out Paprika  Steen, though, who kicks ass as the alluring sub poised to strike.

The effects, few they be, are a kick, as is the whole movie.  THE SUBSTITUTE will fight nicely on a shelf alongside THE MONSTER SQUAD and SMALL SOLDIERS.  If you’ve no affinity for either of those movies, I’ll go ahead and make one final supposition; this movie is not for you.  However, and I think this will be the case with most, if you’ve got a place for those genre benders, add this one to the queue.

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rss 10 comments
  1. Brian
    October 28th, 2008 | 8:21 am | #1

    Is this the one with Treat Williams?

  2. October 28th, 2008 | 1:15 pm | #2

    “It is a well made adaptation of an intelligent script about children and their alien substitute teacher (and yes, I too am pretty sure I owned an R. L. Stine book with this plot)”

    The Girl Who Cried Monster…owned the book and saw the Goosebumps TV episode.

    I’m pathetic.

  3. October 28th, 2008 | 1:58 pm | #3

    Treat Williams wishes this was his one.

  4. Brian
    October 28th, 2008 | 3:16 pm | #4

    Are you telling me it is better than DEEP RISING?

  5. R.J. Sayer
    October 28th, 2008 | 3:20 pm | #5

    Brian – startlingly few films are better than DEEP RISING.

    Peter – i get the MONSTER SQUAD love, but … SMALL SOLDIERS??? really???

    for another film that treats its pre-teen subjects with respect and wit, check out OVER THE EDGE (Matt Dillon’s first role).

  6. R.J. Sayer
    October 28th, 2008 | 3:21 pm | #6

    just so you know, though, it’s not horror. like, at all.

    i will be checking out THE SUBSTITUTE just as soon as i get a moment. been waiting for this one…

  7. October 28th, 2008 | 3:41 pm | #7

    You telling me you don’t have fun with SMALL SOLDIERS?!? And beyond that? And beyond that? And beyond that?

  8. October 28th, 2008 | 4:43 pm | #8

    Even with the A- I think I’ll pass. Don’t care much for ghost stories.

  9. Brian
    October 28th, 2008 | 8:54 pm | #9

    F’ing hilarious John.

  10. October 29th, 2008 | 11:08 am | #10

    Seconded.

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