A dystopian medical thriller in a short format for young viewers. 12 girls are trapped in a mansion, but why are they there, and is it for real? (Please note, this review may contain spoilers.)
Scandinavian public broadcasters are required by law to offer programming for children and teens, including drama series. This is something Scandinavian viewers take for granted, and the broadcasters have been doing a good job in that department since at least the 1960s. This includes genre drama, mainly of the light fantasy type, and to a certain extent a bit more scary stuff. The Chosen Ones (original title: De utvalda) is a new Swedish mini series for older children, tweens and young teens, in the form of six short episodes on SVT’s on-demand service, SVT Play. Each episode runs for about 17 minutes and could be described as a dystopian medical thriller or as a light science fiction thriller. But as is the case with lots of drama in these genres, it’s really about our own times, here and now.
The story, as described by the producers: Twelve girls wake up in a secluded mansion, without knowing how or why they got there. As they realize they are locked in, their situation in the house escalates. The mansion also harbours a dark secret. The girls are part of a medical experiment and if they don’t manage to escape they will die, one by one.
The story then tracks the girls’ attempts at finding out what is going on and how they can get out of the house and escape to freedom. The most important aspect of that storyline is, however, the various internal group dynamics that arise from being in what the young women interpret as a dangerous situation. That aspect is the key to the underlying subtext in the series. The story is only about girls being trapped in a house for medical experiments on the surface; in actuality, it’s all an allegory for social media and the manipulation we’re being subjected to on a daily basis. There are lots of hints for this:
- The girls are trapped in a closed environment – the mansion is a symbol of the electronic web most of us are entangled in
- They receive commands from a computer screen – a twisted version of “truths” and information bending in social media
- The only meaningful outgoing communication goes through the same sceen – if we don’t get likes on Facebook, we get depressed
- A big corporation is “expecting profits” – just like the electronic networks do
- It seems that something Russian is behind it all – just like the huge Russian internet troll networks that manipulate elections
- The girls are fed propaganda that divides them and changes relationships – a huge problem IRL in 2020
The list could go on. There are even specific lines of dialogue that could be transferred directly to real life situations and they would be accurate without any fictional context. The series is a conceptual tale about how we’re affected by social media and when considering it’s target group, the balance between between traditional “trapped in a mystery room/house/castle” horror film and techno-thriller is pretty good. It’s not too difficult to understand the message, but it’s also not too evident what the creators try to say, not for the target group, anyway. You could view The Chosen Ones as a regular thriller mystery and it would be well enough written, but that is clearly not the deeper intention.
The script is also pretty clever in that several potential logical plot holes are avoided by on-screen dialogue and action. If a scene has unfolded with a plot hole coming up, the script wheels it in with at least a few words of dialogue that has enough plausibility in it, rather than just throwing it in the big, black hole of suspension of disbelief.
Production wise, the series is a low budget offering compared to major TV productions, but as is the case with all SVT drama, it is professionally produced nonetheless, with no particular technical or visual flaws. The overall impression is that the images are a little boring, but the idea was never to put a lot of money “on screen”. Many of the actors are well known in Sweden and there was no need for big special effects or expensive locations in the script anyway. It’s clearly a case of writing in line with means and using characters to drive the story, not exotic action.
As a cautionary tale for young teens, The Chosen Ones is a well written and fairly entertaining little miniseries, running only 104 minutes (feature length, but meant to be digested in small portions).
Written by Leif Alexis och Henrik Lilliér. Starring Felice Jankell, Frida Gustavsson, Amy Deasismont, Tind Soneby, Loa Ek, Segal Mohamed, Astrid Morberg, Isabella Touma Pettersson, Bill Hugg, Thomas Chaanhing, Amanda Ooms.
The Chosen Ones “airs” on SVT Play from January 17th, 2020.
Directed by Liza Morberg, Christian Hallman, Stina Hammar.