Part of the Ghost House Underground series, The Substitute (2006) is an alien encounter film from Denmark with an odd twisted story that generally holds your interest. With solid production values, quality special effects, and some creative camerawork, it is a good looking film. Being dubbed in English is something of an impediment, as although the dialog makes mostly sense, some of the lines could definitely have been improved. Despite some rough spots, the plot translates pretty well across the cultural barrier, although some of what happens doesn't make sense regardless of what country you are from.
A silver globe from another world, lands on a poultry farm somewhere in rural Denmark. A flying glowing light escapes from the globe, and after dealing with farmer Jens Peter Hansen, who has come to investigate, enters the mouth of his wife (Paprika Steen) while she is sleeping, and takes over her body. Assuming the name Ulla Harms, the woman somehow is appointed as the substitute teacher to a group of sixth grade students.
Ulla's unorthodox methods immediately make an impression, as she calls her students stupid, and seems to know intimate things about them. Ulla's weird and controversial practice of berating her students, soon has her up for review before a group of parents, kids, and the school's administrator, but when she arrives with the education minister, who provides a glowing testimonial, the parents are won over.
After Carl (Jonas Wandschneider), one of the students, discovers some strange evidence in Ulla's bag, he leads a group of his classmates that includes Phillip (Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok), Albert (Jakob Fals Nygaard), and Rikke (Emma Juel Justesen) over to Ulla's home. Some of the kids enter and see some very strange things, including their teacher having a meal, but when the kids bring a group of parents over later to take a look, the place looks immaculate. Dressed in pajamas, Ulla wins over the parents again, and announces that as a reward, the class will be taking a trip to Paris by bus. Carl's father Jesper (Ulrich Thomsen) winds up piloting the bus, taking the reluctant students to the farm where the alien originally landed, for the film's dramatic conclusion.
Children, many making their film debuts, have significant roles, and with their voices dubbed, it's kind of hard to judge their performances, but overall, they appear to be quite good, with no one trying to be too obvious, or radically overacting. There are a few times when the kids are out of control or say ridiculous things, but mostly the dubbed dialog makes them sound kind of analytical, as they often don't speak or act like your typical kids. Carl's father Jesper, an author, and Rikke's mother Maria (Sonja Richter) a cop, are the parents with the most prominent roles.
The suspension of disbelief that The Substitute requires isn't that difficult. What makes the film work is the quirky performance of Paprika Steen, who kind of plays Ulla, the alien looking for love, as emotionally detached and slightly robotic, often with a semi-blank expression on her face, and incorporating some odd mannerisms into her movements. With an acerbic attitude toward her students, yet sweet as honey to the parents, the effect that Ulla has is fascinating, as you don't really fear her, or hate her for carrying out her mission. You just want to see what weird things she will do.
Creepy and atmospheric, with some very solid special effects, The Substitute isn't a spectacular alien takeover film, but the story is engaging, and features some interesting performances. The English dubbing indicates the target audience, and while not entirely successful, the film translates pretty well. It's worth a look for something in the genre that's just a little different.