Rewind Review: 2008’s ‘Sauna’

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Rogosin: “What if Hell is not a fiery furnace beneath the continents? What if it’s just an unclean place without the presence of God? A time and place behind God’s back?”

Sauna (also known as Filth and Evil Rising) is a Historical Horror movie from Finland.  Written by Irio Kuttner and directed by Antii-Jussi Annila, it’s at once deeply morose and hauntingly beautiful, primitive and extremely nuanced.

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  A cruel horror film bathing in the Finnish sauna culture, in the no-zone between Christianity and paganism. A story of two brothers, who leave a young girl to die and become haunted by her, as she follows them in supernatural form, her face pouring with endless filth. The brothers escape with a commission marking the border between Russia and Finland to a Russian-Orthodox village where they find a sauna – The sauna where all sins are washed away. Seeking for forgiveness, the brothers step into the sauna…

It’s 1595 and an arduous 25-year war between Russia, Sweden, and Finland had just ended.  Brothers Erik and Knut, once soldiers, find themselves acting as diplomats of sorts, working alongside former enemies on an expedition to chart a new border between Russia and Finland.  But it’s far from an adventure as their route takes them through savage an uncharted territory. The irony is that this dismal swampland is completely inhospitable, yet the former adversaries squabble over every square inch as though it were prize territory.  These are bitter ex-warriors, still steeped in rage and vengeance, picking over scraps like a pack or rabid wolves—no beast willing to concede to the other without a fight.

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Erik stands out as one of the first people ever to sport a pair of glasses.  This gives him an unearned air of intelligence and sophistication (when he is actually a despicable brute).  The irony (yes, Sauna is a very ironic film) is that he is unable to see clearly; so clouded by his experiences at war, he’s unable to reinvent himself in peace-time.  His former nemesis and cartography partner, a Russian named Semenski, sums him up thusly:  “Glasses almost make you look like a civilized person. In reality you’re an invalid, who has lived far too long. You are scared of peace, because the end of war will take away the justification for the murders that you have on your conscience.

In the center of the swamp lies a village, one inhabited by remarkably clean peasants.  The residents claim no affiliation to any country, nor can they accurately explain how and when they settled.  A census concludes that the village’s population is 73—which is also the exact number of people Erik has killed during the war.

At the center of the village, sitting in a pool of mud, lies an ancient sauna—a structure that pre-dates the settlers.  In Finnish culture, saunas are used ceremonially to cleanse sins and wipe away the past.  Will the brothers find comfort in the restorative powers within, or are they beyond redemption?

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Sauna is a testament to the destructive power of war on both bodies and souls.  It’s a supernatural tale of consciousness and atonement where tattered lives struggle to find meaning amid madness.  The geography is both sinister and beautiful, peaceful and unnerving, holding both promise and damnation.  It’s an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent film that aficionados won’t want to miss.  Reminiscent of other Historical Horror like Black Death and Brotherhood of the Wolf, Sauna illustrates how far we’ve come from those Dark Ages as a society—and also how little we’ve changed.

Oh yeah, and it’s pretty fucking scary too.

3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE

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U.S. Release Date October 29 2009
Studio IFC
Director Antti-Jussi Annila
Writer Iiro Küttner
Starring Tommi Eronen, Ville Virtanen
Site bronsonclub.fi/sauna
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

One response to “Rewind Review: 2008’s ‘Sauna’

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