Evil Rising (AKA Sauna) (2008)
(15) Running time: 83 minutes
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila
Writer: Iiro Kuttner
Starring: Ville Virtanen, Tommi Eronen, Viktor Klimenko
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Often films come along that really get you after the credits role, haunt you and get inside your head. Finnish film Evil Rising is one of those films, a horror film far too intelligent for its own good, a film that asks more questions than it gives answers to, and a film that requires the viewer to give it their undivided attention. If you are a patient viewer (even at such a shot running time the film is very slow) then you are in for a real treat here, and Evil Rising is a horror film like no other I have seen in long time. It is set in the beautiful countryside of the Swedish and Russian borders, after a lifelong war between the two countries. Now the war is over, Swedish and Russian soldiers are marking out borders to Sweden and Russia, working together and not exactly seeing Eye to eye, but their differences become the least of their problems.
Two brothers, Erik (Virtanen) and Knut (Eronen) are working together and both are very close, although very different. Knut is the quiet of the two, mainly there for his map reading skills, while Erik has a more vicious side and the veteran appears to live for the fight and is actually a very very scary man. With his bald head and glasses, he is a fearsome character who is portrayed superbly by Virtanen. They brothers have an encounter with a local farmer on route and after a fall out over religion, the farmer is killed and the daughter locked up in a basement and left there, and later on guilt overcomes Knut who wants to go back and let her out. Erik stops him, and guilt starts to haunt both brothers as they begin to see the girl they locked up following them. The soldiers soon arrive in a creepy village in the middle of a swamp, where no children have been born for year, the elderly do not die and a mysterious sauna sits in the swamp where people can go to wash away their sins. Here is where the film takes on an even darker edge as the brothers question both their sanity and their morality as they try to figure out if they have done the right thing, and whether they deserve to be forgiven.
It may all sound slightly intense after the synopsis there, and it is, very intense and this film conjures up a moody, cold and claustrophobic atmosphere that draws you in and suffocates you. The story is a little hard to follow in places, and you really do need your wits about you, but the acting is of an incredibly high standard, the scenery is breathtaking and the music will chill you to the bone. The story of redemption is a powerful one, and the girl appearing before the brothers is never over done, but always creepy, and that is the key to this film, it is creepy. It isn’t looking for cheap shocks or gags, it is looking to really get under your skin and creep you out, and the final ten minutes will blow you away and have you scratching your head at the same time. This is arty horror with a brain, and a care and attention to detail which is very rare in the more big budget, Hollywood horrors. You can feel the cold of the setting of the film, you can almost smell the smoke from the village fires and you begin to almost feel like you are there with them so that when moments of disturbing imagery happen, it gets to you that little bit more. This is a fantastic, well crafted and brooding little horror well worth seeking out of you are in a patient mood, or like something a little different.