The Revision: Alena

Being a teenage girl is basically the worst.

Kim W. Andersson (in collaboration with CM Edenborg on the dialogue) brings all the heightened emotions without many nuances to Alena. It doesn’t need nuance, particularly, though. Alena is a messy outcast. The snobby girls at her new school dislike her because they do. Add in the ghost of a dead best friend and some internalized homophobia, this is going to be a story that ends badly because that’s how all these stories end.

Alena is a horror comic with some fairly graphic, bloody parts, but, of course, the true horror is in the way the characters treat each other. Yes, it’s not the most subtle, but Andersson’s art does a lot of the work here. It’s over-the-top and distorted, with faces twisting with rage and tight closeups on bodies. It feels very physical.

Main mean girl Philippa is basically just that — the main mean girl. Of course she’s blonde, too, in order to contrast with the dark-haired, sullen Alena. Love interest Fabian barely has a personality, other than he’s rich and popular. Alena’s dead best friend, Josephine, probably has the most personality of anyone here, even if it’s just mostly “be cruel toward the people who are cruel toward Alena” but at least she has some motivation.

I appreciate what Andersson is trying to do here and I like that goes full force in making this into intense and uncomfortable reading. Alena’s desire to fit in and put the complicated love she had for Josephine behind her is relatable but there’s not enough depth to leave much of an impact. The art, while appropriate for this story, also makes it hard to connect to the characters. I had read this initially a few years ago and forgot most of the details.

Alena (2015, directed by Daniel di Grado) works hard to make up for some of the flaws of the comic. Alena (Amalia Holm) being gay is no longer her major source of conflict since all the girls in this movie are essentially gay and Alena also has more ambition than she does in the comic. It also genderflips Fabian to Fabienne (Felice Jankell). Filippa (Molly Nutley) is also given more motivation for her hatred of Alena. She’s still essentially a stereotypical mean blonde girl, but Alena is threatening to take her place as star of the school.

Josefin (Rebecka Nyman) being dead is initially a mystery but it’s such an obvious one. It also feels like she could just be a manifestation of Alena’s anger and guilt rather than an actual entity (the comic hinted that this a bit but I think we were supposed to believe Josephine was real there). The ambiguity works for this movie.

The acting is fine here. Holm switches between innocent and dark and I like the subtleties of the shift. She has good chemistry with Jankell. Most of their scenes have the feel of a sweet teen indie drama. Nutley does what she can with Filippa, but at least seems to grasp the sorrow at her character’s core. Nyman’s Josefin is less a character than a presence but she does it well.

There is one really stupidly bloody scene that’s part of a fantasy sequence. It’s short and incredibly fake-looking even as these things go. Yes, it’s gross and it’s similar to a scene that was in the comic but it doesn’t do much to sell Alena’s terror. It just seems like an excuse to have two young women make out in their underwear and cover them in blood. I think something else could’ve been done here.

While I like that the movie essentially dropped the homophobia angle, it does make Filippa’s reveal of some slightly racy photos of Alena and Josefin not have as much impact. All these girls seem to be gay so why would they particularly care about this?

The movie makes it to the same inevitably bloody conclusion (mostly, people get stabbed with giant scissors) although it spares Fabienne. It also reveals Alena to be much crueler and less passive than she was in the comic even if her actions were mostly the same. That was hinted at throughout the movie and even knowing what happened, I do think the final reveal does change how I felt about Alena and that was interesting.

I don’t know if I’d quite call Alena a good movie, though. I had actually forgotten this movie existed until I was going through what I had on Comixology a couple of months ago. (It’s worth noting that I had actually seen this movie before!) It does what it needs to do for the most part and does enough to improve upon the comic while still respecting it. It’s not destined for any kind of rediscovery though. There was a reason I had forgotten about it.