Forgotten Friday Flick – 'The Substitute'

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Since we’ve been focusing on American films a ton lately, in the coming weeks we’re looking abroad to partake in some savory foreign fare for once – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  For our cinematic studies, we’re off to Denmark for an odd and unusual horror outing filled with many lessons to be learned.  Seems a strange teacher has come to town and brought with her a very unconventional lesson plan – some say it’s downright out of this world.  We see if the woman in question is truly of this earth as we pay heed to…“The Substitute!”

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For most students getting a substitute means time to relax and goof off, but for one small town sixth-grade class something strange is amiss.  Their new teacher Ulla Harms is no ordinary substitute.  She’s crass (calling out the students and their less attractive features with wild abandon), stern (forcing her class to raise hands and only speak when spoken to) and she has an uncanny knack for reading the thoughts and minds of her students.  It’s quirky behavior that raises a red flag for the students, but not as much as what they discover next…

Oh yeah, I did it.  I stopped the above description with a major cliffhanger finale as a huge part of the enjoyment of “The Substitute” is discovering the mysteries first hand. (No spoilers here fright fans!)  But rest assured, in one clever Danish mix of “The Faculty” and the kiddy book Miss Nelson is Missing, “The Substitute” (not to be mistaken for the angry Tom Berenger flick!) is one stylistic and creatively woven flick indeed.  The not so simple story is told with a skilled hand by Director Ole Bornedal (who knows how to tell a visually engrossing tale!) with both firm attention to detail (love the interweaving of story, flashbacks and future events!) and amazing twists and turns to boot (the dinner table surprise is unforgettable!) that it reminds us there’s certainly no substitute for creative freedom.  

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Plus Bornedal gets the most out of the colorful kids in the gang – from Jakob Fals Nygaard’s big toothed Albert to Jonas Wandschneider’s sullen Carl – and makes the tempestuous group of tots very easy to root for.  (Think Goonies for the somber set!)  But the standout work here has to be the tasty turn by kooky leading lady Paprika Steen as the force of nature Ulla.  Steen is the hands down the unbridled force that drives “The Substitute” and so wild, so inspired and so off the wall is her eccentric educator that she cuts all other memorable cinematic teachers to shreds.

With so many films dealing with teacher/student relationships of all kinds, it’s a hard movie nut to crack.  But what gives “The Substitute” a leg up is its willingness to take every story angle to a whole other level.  Mixing deep drama, dark humor, haunting horror and otherworldly pandemonium, the film is not unlike the lead character it proudly pushes front and center – unapologetically original.  


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   Title: “The Substitute”

   Stars: 4

   Genre: Horror

   Cast: Paprika Steen, Jonas Wandschneider, Ulrich Thomsen

   Director: Ole Bornedal

   Rating: R

   Running Time: 93 Minutes

   Release Company: Ghost House Underground


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