After a traumatic event, Alena is forced to change school and ends up under the watch of a therapist at an all-girl private school. Here she attempts to make friends, love, and move on with her life as her past clings to her. As she tries to live her life and be happy, ghosts of her past haunt her. The film is based on a graphic novel by Kim W. Andersson and is adapted for the screen by Kerstin Gezelius, Alexander Onofri, and Daniel di Grado with di Grado directing. The characters are strong, well developed people, mainly female given the all-girl school setting, and varied.
The story falls under the LGBTQ tree but doesn’t use this fact to build interest or curiosity. Alena and a few other characters simply are lesbians, bi, or questioning. It’s not clearly defined for all of them and this may be the best way to handle this. The girls’ sexual orientation just is, like the fact that one’s hair is black or their eyes are blue. Of course, some issues arise from this fact given teenage girl can be ruthless bullies. However, in general, the subject is approached as it is, just another characteristic for some of the characters. The lead character of Alena, her friend Fabienne, and Filippa are well written, well developed characters. The character of Josefin is kept a bit more mysterious, which works very well here. This shows strong writing and good direction as the whole film comes together very well creating a drama that is interesting and makes the viewer want to watch it unfold.
The titular character of Alena is played by Amalia Holm who brings emotions and talent to her part, showing the complexities of the character and the layers of the story as she peels back parts of the mystery and her character’s life one by one. Playing the despicable Filippa, the bully rich girl used to always getting her way, Molly Nutley is delightfully evil, making the audience hater her character while maybe feeling bad for her a little. Her performance is unrelenting in how mean-spirited her character is. Playing the one accepting, nice person who takes Alena in right away is Felice Jankell as Fabienne. She shows sweetness and care without falling in the realm of saccharine exaggeration. She gets one very powerful scene in particular which she nails. Lastly, Rebecka Nyman plays Josefin with heapfuls of mystery, bringing violence and determination to how she plays the part.
She is tough but also had something else going on behind her sad eyes. Her character creates doubt and some tension, making the viewer question what is going at times. This cast brings a strong ensemble performance. Adding to this film that is definitely a drama with horror elements, especially in the second half with effects that are minimal, but they work. The music by Karl Frid and Par Frid adds atmosphere and mood to scenes that already worked, thus enhancing them. Their music is non-intrusive and like a supporting character. The cinematography by Simon Olsson shows the natural beauty of Sweden and the grounds the private school is located on. His work uses the same locations for peaceful and then for suspenseful scenes, framing them differently to create different effect.
Alena is a horror drama that shows some of the horrors of teenage life through one girl slowly coming to terms with the past, learning to let go and move on, dealing with her inner demons while coming of age. The way this is handled is engrossing and never patronizing, something many coming of age films about teenage girls often fall into. The cast chosen handles the fun and the emotional scenes with talent, showing that most of this could be the life of just about any teenage girl trying to learn to live again after a traumatic event. Alena is not your run of the mills coming of age drama, it’s intelligent, scary in spots, and well-crafted while handling the LGBT character with class and in a non-exploitative way.