Acclaimed in its original 2012 form as Kim W. Andersson’s graphic novel, “Alena” seems more ordinary adapted for the screen, where the long shadow of Carrie White throws considerable shade on a similarly horror-tinged tale of teenage bullying and payback. Daniel di Grado’s first theatrical feature (expanded from an hour-long original Swedish TV version) is a polished and reasonably entertaining hunk of teen angst, but its familiar suspense elements rely heavily on a “twist” most viewers will see coming a mile off. The result should nonetheless prove viable as an offshore pickup in various formats, with remake rights also possibly attracting bidders.
Some traumatic recent events, to which the film at first just murkily alludes, get local teenager Alena (Amalia Holm) transferred from her public high school to an elite private girls’ academy where she’s one of the few students who isn’t a rich boarder. She quickly learns that status makes her a target for Filippa (Molly Nutley), the noxious ringleader of a small mean-girl posse. Filippa’s distemper is heightened when Alena is befriended by the worldly Fabienne (Felice Jankel), the one cool girl Filippa can neither intimidate or impress; she’s further incensed when Alena threatens her crown as queen of the school lacrosse team.
Generally passive and skittish off the playing field, Alena has a powerful if problematic defender: Josefin (Rebecka Nyman), who stands up for her to the point of violent excess, which we have little doubt will eventually take a murderous turn. No one else seems to see this surly avenger, though the effects of her volatile temper are real enough. Is she a ghost? A figment of the imagination? The answer is obvious well before the script finally spells it out.
A vividly despicable petty tyrant in Nutley’s performance, Filippa is indeed hiss-worthy, but there’s not a lot of complexity or originality to “Alena’s” other story elements. The characters (including the heroine) are well cast but sketchily developed, and the suspense sequences are unremarkable, with way too many scenes of people wandering around conveniently dark, unpopulated school corridors waiting for something scary to happen. And while sympathetically intended, there’s a rote “girl-on-girl” titillative feel to the depiction of lesbian attraction between various principals.
Still, as YA horror goes, “Alena” is nicely crafted and non-cheesy despite its formulaic aspects; in fact, those looking primarily for horror content will likely be disappointed, as this is more a psychological suspenser with some supernatural red-herrings. Considering its telepic origin, pic has a decent big-screen look and production values, with additional footage added to earlier 59-minute runtime smoothly integrated.