A hard-hitting and thoughtful drama about a young man’s quest to expose a pedophile, “Sons” is an impressive first film by young Norwegian writer-director Erik Richter Strand that should garner arthouse sales on the back of festival play. Intense semi-thriller maintains interest without slipping into cliche, and has an ending both satisfying and unexpected.
Lars (Nils Jorgen Kaalstad) is a 25-year-old lifeguard at a public baths who gets to know a teenage boy, Tim (Mikkel Bratt Silset), after catching him peeking at nude girls in the shower. Later that day, Lars discovers a middle-aged man, Hans (Henrik Mestad), talking to Tim and his pals in the pool. Lars recognizes him as someone who was accused of pedophilia and, when he sees Tim entering Hans’ car, he videotapes Tim pleasuring Hans in the front seat. After trying to run Lars over, Hans drives off. Tim begs Lars to give him the videotape, but Lars refuses.
Due to his obsession with Hans, Lars is fired from his job at the baths. He spends his time talking to his only relatively close friend, prostitute Norunn (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), and stalking Hans. After confronting him at home, Lars finds Hans’ computer loaded with explicit pictures of him having sex with young boys — one of whom is now a local TV presenter.
Lars gives the presenter the tape of Hans and Tim in the car, and begs him to use it on the air, but with Tim’s face obscured. The story ends up aired in a different version, which starts a chain of events that rocks the world of many of the characters.
One of the film’s best assets is that almost every person, including Hans, is portrayed in a human way — flawed but with sympathetic characteristics. Pic never shies away from the wrong in what Hans is doing, but it also shows him as someone who believes he is doing something right. “These boys are like sons to me,” he says, to which Lars replies, “A father never does what you do to them.”
The multilayered characters and the unpredictability of the story go hand in hand with the thriller elements. Though Lars is an angry young man who’s not above mugging Norunn’s customers when they leave her apartment, he has a strict sense of morality when it comes to the wrongdoings against the boys. Part of this, it’s gradually revealed, can be traced to his own background.
Performances by the mostly unknown cast are fine, as is the pic’s technical package. Use of night settings by helmer Richter Strand and d.p. Johan-Fredrik Bodtker is effective in ramping up the sense of menace.