måndag 21 december 2009
Ok, here goes: Sauna is the best horror movie that Scandinavia has ever produced. So there. On the other hand, Scandinavia isnt exactly well known for it's quality horror output. Norway has produced a couple of nice looking slashers and the nice little chiller De Dödas tjärn, but other than that? Nothing. Well, if I'm forgetting something you're welcome to remind me but at the moment I cant remember one good swedish or danish horror movie. Thankfully Finland is here to claim the throne and show the world that the dreary, dark long winters can produce something that is better than most of all the movies that are produced out there. Finland is a bit like Sweden in a sense, which isnt so strange since finland has from time to time been a part of Sweden and a large part of Finland speaks swedish as their main language. Both countries has always has a tendency for bleak dramas, and most people out there has heard of both Bergman and Kaurismäki. I've been wondering when someone would arrive on the "scene" and combine that darkness with genuine horror and make a truly scandinavian horrormovie. And here it is: Sauna.
The year is 1595. A war between Sweden and Russia has just ended and Brothers Knut and Eerik are part of a joint Swedish/Russian expedition to define the new border between the two countries. While staying at a lone farmers house, Eerik kills the farmer (something that comes to him way too easy having been a soldier for a long time) and while Knut does not take part in the killing, he is perhaps not entirely without blame. As the expedition moves into an uncharted swamp, something is haunting them and it all culminates when they find an unknown village in the middle of the bog, built upon the old grounds of a russian monastery whose inhabitants mysteriously vanished. And then there is the Sauna, a building even older than the monastery itself which according to legend strips you away of all your sins when you enter. As one of the characters says early in the movie, "What if hell is just an unclean place unseen by the eyes of god?"
I've left the description of the movie purposely vague, since it needs to be experienced by visuals and sounds alone. There are so many elements that combine the whole story. The whole area is saturated by the horrors of the war and remnants of paganism that Christianity is trying to remove. Eerik is a soldier who is coming to realization that the war is over. The first word of the movie 73, the number of people he has killed and he is trying to come to grips with that. These are only a few of the pieces of the puzzle and I will admit that the puzzle itself doesnt exactly turn into an image you will be able to interpret fully. But when a story is as intelligent and dark as this, all of that becomes secondary. As a horror piece, this is superior. You feel that you are very close to grasping what really is happening, but never really enough. Just enough to come out of the movie satisfied and in the end, that is what matters. The horror images themselves are tremendeously delicious and the violence is cold and brutal. All of this is helped by great acting by Ville Virtanen as Eerik and Tommi Eronen as Knut. The cinematography perfectly captures the cold and grey swamp and Antti-Jussi Annila is one of the most interesting directors to come out of Scandinavia in years, especially after viewing this and his marrying of Kalevala and Hong Kong action in his earlier movie, Jade Warrior. Iiro Küttners script is full of great ideas which Annila captures perfectly with his camera. Yes, the pace is slow and there are a lot of things that aren't explained to satisfaction, but thats just about the only criticism I can come up with when it comes to Sauna and since it's a perfect 85 minutes in length, even slasherfreaks havent got the time to be bored. Some of them probably will, but it's their loss. Go back to watching Slasherremakes and worshipping Kane Hodder.
Yes, I loved this movie. It combines all that horrible Scandinavian despair with an interesting take on Finlands and Swedens past, and manages to make an original, genuinly Scandinavian movie. I keep saying Scandinavian because since I'm Swedish I would like to take some credit for all of this greyness but since Sweden hasnt produced anything like this, or even anything remotely good in the genre, I guess I will have to end this review by admitting that this is a 100% Finnish movie. So, Sweden, when are we going to do something like this? No no, Fuck us all, Göta Kanal 3 is premiering in a couple of days and a fourth of Swedens population will have seen it within six months. God, I hate Sweden. And you should watch Sauna.
Footnote: Göta Kanal 3 is what we in Sweden call a fars/farce. It's the humourequivelant of Deuce Bigalow European Gigolo. Only even more boring.