MSPIFF 2016 Review: Alena

A stylish thriller that combines both Let The Right One In and Carrie.
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Bullying is one of those issues the media and the public have been ranting about in the last few years.  Now that’s not to say there should not be any discussion on the subject.  I just think this whole thing gets very little results. Not everyone is going to like you and no group meet-ups or tweet outs is going to change that.  When you are faced with a bully, there are a few options.  You can either stand up to them or you can run away.  Another choice is to do what our main character does and just let your dead friend take care of the problem.

Alena (Amalia Holm) has just moved to a new school after the tragic suicide of her best friend Josefin (Rebecka Nyman).  On her first day, Alena is targeted by Flippa (Molly Nutley) and her mean girls for no real reason except for being different. Later on, Alena befriends Fabienne (Felice Jankell), the most popular girl in the school which makes Flippa jealous.  I'm guessing because she thinks that Flippa and Fabienne makes a cool-souding duo.  She later gets her posse to bring the pain on poor Alena.  However, Alena is not going into this fight alone.  She has back up from the ghost of her best friend Josefin.

The characters were fully fleshed out and I praise all the actors involved.  The way director Daniel di Grado shot certain scenes was also really good.  It was difficult to know for certain if Josefin was a real ghost or just an illusion inside Alena’s mind.  There are moments when an attack happens that are made to look like it could be both.

The cinematography from Simon Olsson is worth mentioning.  This was based off a graphic novel by Kim W. Andersson and the movie captures some of the same look the book had. Certain panels of the novel are washed in blue while characters in others will have a reddish tint to them.  This would look out of place if placed in a real-world setting, so they make it up by having characters wear red or they use what looks like a blue filter for some of the night scenes.    

I am curious to read the book because I want to know if it is different from the film.  There are a few reveals in the third act that I am not going to spoil, but they did make me rethink on certain characters.  This feels kind of jarring because it wants you to root for people you didn’t like at first and question the ones you did.  If the film made subtle hints on these people's true nature, I may have liked this a bit more.  Alena pays homage to classics like Let The Right One In and Carrie and I dug that very much.  I am very interested to see what director Daniel di Grado does next in his career.

Alena is just one of many movies playing at the 35th Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival.  To learn more about the festival and how you can become a member, visit their website.

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