There's many ways to find new movies to watch, and when you bi-regularily rant on the internet in such a manner that I do, you'll need up to several ways to make sure you've got enough material. Now, I heard about today's movie online, but thought no more about it until I found a copy in the «obscure stuff»-aisle in my local DVD store. I should probably stop going there so often, lest my wallet suffer, but I digress.
Sauna is, as the title probably would imply, a Finnish movie, it's a Finnish horror movie, to be
precise. I can't say I've seen too many of those. Well, since I'm on a roll of scandinavian horror, I figured it was about time to give it a go. Sauna is a bit of a rare case in other ways too, it's a period flick, set in 1595 in the aftermath of the Swedish-Russian war. We follow the two brothers Eerik and Knut, who, together with some representatives from the Russians are traveling through the wilderness to draw the new borders as negotiated by the peace treaty. It's not too often you see period horror, as most horror directors seem unwilling to move further back than the 70's, the golden age of hippies, who everyone likes seeing murdered, and maybe best of all, an age without cellphones, thus ridding them of the at times herculean task it apparently is to account for cellphone and GPS technology in ye olde chainsaw & meathook murder brouhaha, but again, I digress.
The two brothers are marked by war in their own ways. Eerik, having killed 73 people during the war, is wrestling with his guilt and worries if peacetime will work for him, while the more bookish Knut spends equal time trying to map the area, wrestling with his own dark lusts and fleeing from the ghost of a girl who might have been another black mark on Eerik's record, or something more sinister entirely. The merry band is about ready to finish up and call it a day when they encounter a strange little town in the middle of a marsh. Trying to find out on which side of the border these strange folk belong, the party notices that the townsfolk seems to be scared of an abandoned sauna. What primitive folks these must be. Being afraid of a building is asinine.
Well, turns out there's every reason to be afraid of this humble little den of nonspecific evil. In many ways, the building is quite an effective villain, as it eventually draws Knut in, leaving Eerik to wrestle with his demons and eventually trying to save the day, or at least himself. I've got a tendency to overuse this word, but in lieu of a more fitting word, you could say that the building has a subtle wrongness about it. It could be that it's because it's partially submerged in the water, or that it's darker in there than there strictly speaking should be, see below, or maybe it's just one of those naturally creepy buildings.
See the walls on the bottom part? Me neither
Of course, this isn't merely a movie about a creepy location, that'd be silly. As one would expect in a movie about ones own darker sides, fears, regrets etc, character development is important, and the mysteries around their actions and personal ghosts (both figuratively and literally) play a large part in pushing us forward until they discover the titular location, which some interpretations claim is a gate to hell. Despite there being some good arguments for this, a conversation early on about how hell's fires may not be fiery cleansing but a bleak place devoid of God's presence, seems to fit the bill fairly well, I'm personally leaning a bit more about it being more a descent into ones own darker side. Well, there's multiple interpretations to be had here, as much is to be sure.
Visually, this film is impressive, it has that handheld feel to it that makes it feel somewhat more dynamic, and the lighting is pretty good, especially when considering this entire thing was made for 1 Million Euros, or about 1,3 Million dollars. Compare, if you will, Tommy Wiseau's three million dollar-train-wreck The Room, which looks like shit. Sure, The Room is a special case, but when you can see all that can be done with 1,3, it becomes a good bit more jarring.
Again, I kind of get the same feeling I got when trying to cover Antichrist, I feel that I should cover more, or more in-depth, but it's just not coming to me. Well, I guess you can just take this as a light-on-spoilers recommendation of a different, but good, horror flick.