A newcomer’s arrival exposes and eventually implodes a lighthouse keeper’s tyrannical rule over his wife and children in “The Disciple.” Second feature from Finnish director Ulrika Bengts (following 2011’s “Iris,” likewise an island-set period family drama) effectively downplays familiar themes and narrative beats amid solid perts and handsome widescreen presentation. Though not distinctive enough to attract wide arthouse export, the pic (which debuts on home turf late this month) should win select offshore sales through further fest travel.
Strong-willed Karl (Erik Lonngren), a very self-possessed 13-year-old, is dropped off by authorities as the government-assigned new assistant to lighthouse master Vilhelm Hasselbond (Niklas Groundstroem), but gets a frosty welcome from his would-be boss. Vilhelm says his own same-aged son, Gustav (Patrick Kumpulainen), is slotted for that job, telling the outsider that he simply needs to wait for the next return boat. But Karl will do anything to avoid being returned to the orphanage he was raised in (myriad whip marks on his back suggest one reason why), and determines to make himself useful whether he’s wanted or not.
At first Gustav is thrilled to have a friendly peer break up the family’s bleak geographic and social isolation, as are little sis Emma (Ping Mon Wallen) and their long-suffering mother, Dorrit (Amanda Ooms). But things turn sour when Vilhelm, impressed by the bright and ambitious Karl, begins using him to further browbeat his own insecure, desperate-to-please son. While not entirely mean-spirited, the patriarch’s ugly need for total control escalates in turmoil, including the cruel destruction of his wife’s only remaining private pleasure (a piano kept in the attic). When he finally reels entirely out of control, this domestic dictator’s subjects rebel at last.
Jimmy Karlsson and Roland Fauser’s economical script provides sufficient incident and psychological depth to maintain a credible tension, though the story still feels strongly reminiscent of other, more memorable father-as-abusive-drill-sergeant screen portrayals. It’s very attractively produced, however, with Robert Nordstrom’s 35mm widescreen lensing of stark, striking land- and seascapes a major plus.