a review by Elizabeth Vinton
Big thanks to Madman Entertainment for submitting Sauna for review!
Recently I set out to review horror/thriller movies that promised to deliver a new experience in a new way, and hopefully introduce readers of Dark Matter to something unique from a genre that has become quite stale of late. I am very pleased to announce that Sauna, a Finnish Horror film, revealed itself to be a great start to my mission!
It is 1595 and a war has ended in an uneasy peace. Two Finnish brothers, one a soldier and the younger a student mapmaker are leading a team to mark the border between Russia and Sweden. Their journey has been long and the tensions between the men involved are high. Eerik Spore is getting older with failing eyesight and is unable to leave his violent soldiering days behind. He is protective of his younger brother Knut, who has no experience of war and was studying while his brother fought. The consequences of a recent sin follow them to a nameless village in the middle of swampland filled with the elderly and only one young child. On the outskirts is a strange sauna with a superstition attached to it – it is rumoured that it washes away the sins of those who enter. And yet the villagers are gripped by an unknown fear that has a terrible effect upon them.
Sauna, in my opinion, has all the aspects of a classic supernatural story for those who have mature horror tastes – a plot that is an affecting morality fable about people in difficult times, a historical/political backdrop, top notch acting and arresting visuals. It is a tragic Shakespearean ghost tale, akin to the Scottish Play in some aspects. The ghosts are visceral and disturbing in the extreme, their appearance grotesque and haunting and the depth of their suffering is felt.
The opening sequence explaining the back story to the main plot is beautifully done and a wonderful introduction to the film’s feel. The cinematography is amazing, so dreamlike and surreal, but believable and pulls you into the world the characters exist in, so that you are enveloped in it. It feels timeless, despite being set in the 1500’s. The acting is impeccable, especially by the two main leads who portray Eerik (Ville Virtanen) and Knut (Tommi Eronen). Ville’s is an especially amazing performance – the character easily slides between a fearsome and aggressive madman, to a pitiful and sympathetic brother who just wants peace.
Sauna was not at all what I was expecting, it was much more and a film I will cherish for years to come. It is a beautiful, sad, horrifying and disturbing journey into the human psyche in extreme times and how we deal with the decisions that haunt us. I can’t recommend it highly enough for horror fans who enjoy mature supernatural tales.