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Simon Read [Film Festival 05.04.09] movie review horror



Year: 2008
Directors: AJ Annila
Writers: Iiro Küttner
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 5 out of 10

Antti-Jussi Annila’s ‘Sauna’ is the story of two brothers working to carry out The Treaty of Teusina in 1595 at the end of the Russo-Swedish war, revising the border in Russian territory as part of a border-recognition treaty detachment. Cavalry Master Eerik has lived through the war since the beginning and is hard-bitten and extremely ruthless to the point of actually being psychotic, and obsessed with the number 73, for that is his body-count. His younger brother Knut has led a comparatively sheltered life, studying to become a geography teacher back in Stockholm, Sweden. The brothers are joined by their Russian counterparts, the straightforward Captain Semenski, Musko and homosexual Ivan, who’s got his eye on Knut...


The film starts slowly and basically continues as such, early on Eerik and Knut arrive at a farm-house and demand shelter and food, however Eerik goes typically berserk upon finding religious icons and an axe hidden by the farmer, and decides to slaughter them all… Knut is rightly horrified and hides the farmers beautiful daughter in the underground store, but Eerik surreptitiously locks the door and throws away the key, only telling Knut a day later after they’ve joined the Russians and are on track to their destination. Things get a bit ‘Ringu’ when Knut, racked with guilt, starts to hallucinate the girl following him, her hands covering her face. When I say ‘a bit Ringu’, I should stress that the writer actually just took Sadako, placed her likeness the film, and the director aped the style for all it was worth. This needn’t be seen as a bad thing per say, but as my friend said afterwards, she’s just not that scary anymore. Ringu came out in ’98 and has been the inspiration behind imitative dross ever since. This was the first of several let downs in a film that is simply an enormous missed opportunity.

Back to the story and on arriving at a swampy village that rests exactly on the new border they start to draw-up the plans and vaguely assert their authority on the townsfolk. As the mist rolls in and night approaches they begin to realise that something isn’t right… There is only one child in the whole village and everyone and everything is kept ruthlessly clean, there is no church, be it Lutheran or Russian and the people are extremely secretive of the mysterious Sauna on the edge of the town. Eerik and Knut and try to interrogate a village elder but during questioning a collection of relics, crucifixes and statues left by monks who used to inhabit the village explode in blood and the man collapses dead with his face horribly scarred by an unseen force… yes… religious icons explode in blood, man has face torn off. Right.

The men eventually discover that the Sauna itself was believed to purify anyone in the eyes of God, without even having to pray or confess, but that it is cursed, hence the monks either leaving or being destroyed by some... thing. As is tradition the Finns must bathe their new born and newly dead in the sauna but since it’s haunted the villagers cannot have children and their dead won’t die, but simply stay in a sort of limbo zombie-esc life. This is not an entirely apparent part of the plot, but rather we had to work out what was going on after the film had finished, a bit like connect-the-dots.

The film is just that confusing and haphazard, the narrative is all over the place. People come and go, die and scream, look meaningfully into the camera and whisper lines like, “What was it that she was really so afraid of?” to each other. The scary girl gives Knut some teeth, Eerik shouts at the villagers a lot and the androgynous village child gets nosebleeds and looks weird (why do horror films always have to have a creepy kid, it’s bad enough you stole Sadako, but popping a Petri-dish grown Haley Joel Osment in is not going to help things at this point). The pacing is a huge problem as parts seem to lag and then suddenly there’s exposition and action (usually quite clichéd, along the lines of spooky folklore) that don’t ever really conclude or go anywhere specific. By the end it seemed the director was running out of film and just said, “Okay gang, let’s finish-up with a fountain of blood and an ambiguous voiceover!” The film purports to be a study of violence, innocence, guilt and redemption but in the end it’s just another faceless monster bellowing in the woods.

My constant and embarrassing bitching aside, the film does have a few interesting ideas and payoffs. From a historical perspective the film is pretty fascinating, the costumes and weapons are perfect and Eeriks griping about his glasses (a miraculous invention at the time) being a sign of fading self-reliance rings true of a warrior approaching middle age. Annila’s pacing might be off, but the use of the woods, deserted plains, crashing rivers and the village sets are very atmospheric and evoke an unnamable fear that gives the film an appropriately palpable, creepy atmosphere. It’s a great idea to have a historical horror set in the aftermath of an incredibly bloody war, when both sides are recovering, mourning and carving up the land. Bickering over religious beliefs is also a theme between the Swedes and the Russians, and even just seeing a snapshot of a time and place I knew nothing about was interesting. Aside from the fact that the war happened and that people were killed I basically knew nothing about it, although I can’t really claim to know any more now than I knew before seeing Sauna.

Far from a complete disaster thanks to decent performances (Ville Vertanen as Eerik stood out in a powerful role) and an obviously talented DP, Sauna was the weakest film I saw at DeadbyDawn this year and I can’t really recommend it unless you’re swayed by the promise of more Sadako and Haley.

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quietearth (10 years ago) Reply

I kind of liked this film.

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Forgotten Films (10 years ago) Reply

This is by far the snobbiest, fucking website ever. Horrible review. Too bad this film went over your head. Idiot.

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projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

Oh belt-up.

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Forgotten Films (10 years ago) Reply

Great film.

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projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

Calling me an idiot because of my opinion is pretty low. If you think it's a great film then disagree with me and say why, please don't start bashing the site and me for no reason. Fact is QuietEarth is one of the least 'snobbiest' sites out there. You want snobs go to ruthlessreviews.com, mate.

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DBD Regular (10 years ago) Reply

I thought this was actually the strongest movie I saw at DBD 2009, and it's haunted me since. I really don't see the J-Horror comparisons - reminded me more of The Seventh Seal, and others have mentioned Stalker. No question that it's all about atmosphere, and mileage will vary. Equally, incoherent, or enigmatic? I'd say see it and decide for yourselves.

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projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

Thanks for the comment, good advice too. Cheers DBD Regular.

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emobadger (10 years ago) Reply

I completely agree with you projectcyclops, Sauna certainly was the biggest disappointment on Dead by Dawn this year. :( It was interesting but nothing actually happened much did it? :/ Now the Forbidden Door, that was a different story! :D

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DBDs Number One Fan (10 years ago) Reply

By far the strongest film at DBD 09. This film was all about creating and maintaining an atmosphere which it did remarkbly well. It also asks a number of interesting, and timely, questions. The parallels with some of Tarkovsky's work are self-evident (Stalker being the most obvious). Overall interesting, intelligent, oblique, enigmatic, original and by far the most accomplished film at this years festival, BUT not a film tat everybody will enjoy.

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sonhorror (10 years ago) Reply

Totally agree projectcyclops. Honest review! Sauna, blaah - Stolen ideas and j-horror copycat. DP and Vertanen is the only ones to hurray.

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Anonymous (10 years ago) Reply

Magnificent film!

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jtox (10 years ago) Reply

total POS!

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plop (10 years ago) Reply

If you think that nothing much happened in this flick, you should see some Kaurismäki's movies ;) Yet to see Sauna but it is really dividing the opinions here in Finland (too). Some say it's really good and some say its POS. Like there is almost no one on the "grey" area between.

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Charlie (9 years ago) Reply

I'm getting a little sick of pweople whose only approach to watching cinema is based on tired old expectations about plot delivery 'where's the easily followed storyline', stock characters 'is he the good guy or the bad guy? Where's the love interest' or genre 'I thought this was horror film, why are they talking about geography?'.

This was a very haunting, unsettling film about guilt, a meditative effort, bleak in every way, that stimulated a lot of conversation once it was over.

The whole 'stolen ideas thing is garbage; I could find you stories written over a century ago that describe little girls like Sadako in Ringu. Ringu is lifted wholesale from the Victorian ghost stories of M R James.

There are NO new ghosts and all ghost stories are parables about subconscious guilt and fear.

The Sixth Sense was shit; all the ghosts wanted was to be listened to. Boo hoo. The real truth is that many terrible people live utterly foul lives, die in horror and vanish into nothingness. What would happen if Haley Osment met the ghost of Jeffry Dahmer? I bet he wouldn't be asking for help.

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Bob (9 years ago) Reply

Come on Charlie. "Stolen ideas thing is garbage"... that's a crappy line! I saw sauna as well. Best ideas; straight from Tarkovski, Kubrick and J-horror. I mean straight as hell. It feels almost like ya' has to be the one who made this film, who else would say "stolen ideas is garbage" for real dude?

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Queef Latina (7 years ago) Reply

This entire thread read likes the same two dorks (i.e. the reviewer and person that originally disagreed with him) posting over and over under various aliases.


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