Available on Netflix
Icelandic film director, scriptwriter and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson, enters the international Hollywood scene with Malevolent, which launched on Netflix October 5th. Set in Glasgow during the 80s, the film follows Angela (Florence Pugh) and Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) in the lead as a scam-artist sibling duo who have an unusual way of conning people: through the faking of paranormal encounters.
Olaf’s foray into filmmaking began in his twenties. “Very simply, I was depressed,” he explains. “Then I saw a 14-year-old girl on television who won a dance competition. She was asked, ‘How did you win this dance competition?’ And she said, ‘Well, I just trained and decided to do it.’ When I heard that, I was like, I want to do movies. How can I do that? I called the television station, asked them to show me how to record, how to edit movies, how to do all of it.”
Just as Malevolent takes the audience on a journey, Olaf is continuing on his very own adventure of growth as a director. His 2011 self-labelled “Nordic noir” genre film, City State, launched the self-taught, Búðardalur-born director from Iceland into the world of Hollywood. “[City State] had some feel to it, which translated to a manager from Los Angeles,” he explains. Through his 2011 film, Olaf was invited to read the script for Malevolent and give his take on it. The rest is history.
Asked where he draws inspiration from, Olaf smiles and describes how he imagines his artistic voice contributing a single tone, like a key on the piano, within an infinite orchestra of creations. The vivacity of life, with its ups and downs, comes across in the director‘s view on not just his artistic ventures but also in his everyday outlook. “Life is an adventure,” he confides. “That is my tone. I wake up every day and think, life is an adventure. Just remembering that I‘m here to represent that one piano note. That‘s the inspiration. And under that inspiration is music, and in the end is always family and friends. That´s why you do it.”
A Universal Theme
Presented with the opportunity to discuss his emergence as Iceland‘s first-ever director of a Netflix horror film, it soon becomes apparent that underlying the grim genre of the movie, Olaf‘s work follows a much more grounded theme than the paranormal elements of the film would have you believe at first glance. “On the other the end of adventure, the big part of any adventure, is that life breaks your heart. It’s supposed to do it,” Olaf explains. As such, although we are being told a metaphysical story, it is still very much a human story about tragedy.
As to what’s next after Malevolent, the director admits with a shrug, “I never know what I’m going to do. But it’s going to be a lot of fun. Pure fun.” Ultimately, Olaf’s way forward is to go on his own adventure, inviting his curious audience to join him. “It is about honouring that thing that you’ve got so that when you look back, even when you weren’t aware of it, it becomes fascinating,” he describes. “It becomes an exploration.”