UK Release Date – To be confirmed
People taking their sick pets to be put down might not seem like the most obvious choice of subject matter for a thriller, but Finnish director Teemu Nikki’s mixture of human drama and revenge story uses just that as a foundation. Whether unlicensed animal extermination is a real thing in this part of the world is unclear, but the plot follows various characters as they cross paths with Veijo (Matti Onnismaa) a repair man who kills animals as a sideline. This might seem like the basis for a dark comedy, but be prepared as this is a fairly bleak film about people who treat their pets and each other pretty badly at times.
Veijo is actually someone who likes the animals he kills a lot more than their owners, which is soon apparent after he gives several customers a lot of grief for their behaviour. After agreeing to do the job of course. He may be a creepy old guy running a repair shop by a railway line in the middle of nowhere, but he’s also an idealist. However as things progress it’s also clear that his behaviour will get him into trouble. He has a lot of big ideas about human cruelty and karma, and this is a recurring part of the story as details about his past are revealed and we see his disdain for the only other human being in his life – his elderly bed ridden father.
At the hospital his father’s nurse Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander) soon makes a strange connection with Veijo. After she sees his strange methods of putting down animals a kind of twisted love story starts to develop. Perhaps it’s just me, but a custom built car that filters the exhaust fumes into a sealed compartment to gas furry creatures isn’t the most romantic sight. But this isn’t your everyday melodrama – there are no hearts being melted by abandoned dogs, there’s no cosy third act in which this odd couple find a way to help one another. Instead there’s a lot of choking, burning and general misery as Veijo’s attitudes towards life start to cause problems.
A lot of these issues stem from a local mechanic Petri (Jari Virman) who’s also doing shady car work for a racist gang calling themselves Soldiers of Finland. He’s a pathetic guy who threatens those he thinks are weaker than he is, and he’d rather get rid of his children’s pet dog than pay for the veterinary bills. As a central trio they’re a miserable lot, and this film often feels cold and melancholy. The performances and the desaturated cinematography all feel like part of an overarching theme of human loneliness and it has an atmosphere of death about it, but not all of the plot elements are quite so congruent.
For one thing the white supremacist thugs feel too thinly drawn, as if they’re here just to provide a short hand way of including antagonists for the story. They might say a lot of nasty things, but there are never any deeper connections to the whole animal cruelty storyline. A man who catches salmon for sport and a vet who is more interested in her new car than her job seem like more suitable candidates, but I guess there’s no way to use them to tip the scales once the third act violence comes around. Veijo himself seems far more interesting as both hero and villain in this story as his ways of teaching people lessons about how animals feel become more extreme.
Other inclusions like the relationship with his father offer some characterisation and the reasons he feels some people owe a debt of suffering to the world, but it’s not a focal point. His sudden affair with Lotta could have also offered insight to their personalities, but her masochistic tendencies are never explored in a satisfactory way. Some elements just feel like they’re here to feel eccentric or outlandish, such as the impromptu gang karaoke scene. But this is also a film full of nightmarish visuals where the mood is amplified by scenes of empty cat storage boxes piling up and a woodland filled with hanging dog collars. People on the edge of becoming worse than beasts is an interesting idea, but it’s never put into practice as a fully developed metaphor.
This is an eerie and unusual piece of work, but the results are ultimately too inconsistent. A more focused narrative or even just a short film about a tired old animal lover and a cruel vet might have been more interesting. As it stands there are elements of revenge drama, there are bits of dark romance, and there are a few hints that this was all intended as a blackly comic tragedy. It even veers into kidnap and murder when things get out of control. There’s something great about a guy and a girl spending their evenings burying road kill after a day of gassing cats and guinea pigs to the sound of music. But at the same time it’s a brief part of the larger picture and it’s all far less memorable than it should be.