Many people believe that societies like Sweden treat their people fairly, with a good criminal justice system and effective social reinsertion tools for those leaving prison, particularly the young. Magnus von Horn’s first feature, The Here After, pours cold water onto common sense and strong rooted ideas. It is a hybrid of art house and thriller flick in which the backstory is fully revealed only after a whole hour into the film, when teenager John (played by the local rock star Ulrik Munther) leaves custody and goes back to his rural community.
John returns to his old school, but his schoolmates welcome him with evident fear and hatred, and bullying slowly morphs into psychodrama. The tension increases up to the point that John’s father regrets bringing his own child home again. John suffers in silence, and his pain gradually brings him closer to the audiences, who ultimately empathise with the wrongdoer. His own guilt, uncertainty and rage come to surface in a scene at the supermarket, when he meets the mother of the girl he killed. At that point, film viewers are already on John’s side, because they too have experienced his daily torment.
Fortunately, John is not alone. He befriends his female classmate Malin (Loa Ek), who is new to the community and doesn’t know anything from his past. Despite his colleague’s affection, what prevails is John’s fight to reintegrate into his environment. The filmmaker and his director of photography, Lukasz Zal, establish a rigorous camera style that privileges distance and restraint. They favour long takes and avoid extensive dialogue. The consequence is an eloquent cinematic speech.
Even though John and his family are willing to move on, their small, rural community is still resentful. A final explosion of violence becomes inevitable. Repression and access to formal education does not necessarily translate into civilised living, a recurring topic in Scandinavian cinema. There are echoes of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012). In the Danish movie, a kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) collapses after one of his students implies that he had molested her, but in this case it was a lie.
The Here After played in Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival in 2015. It is out in the UK release on Friday, March 11th. The film is now available on BFI player – just click here in order to watch it!