Sauna

January 14th, 2010 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

A foreign language film set on the swampy border between Russia and Sweden at the end of the 1500s with no blood and only a few scares will always be a hard sell to audiences, but Sauna is worth your time for very slick production values and an intriguing idea.

After a bitter war between the two countries, two Finnish brothers join a contingent of Russian soldiers to map out the new border agreed upon by the peace accords. The eldest, a brutal soldier not proud of his deeds, mistreats a farming family who offers them lodgings when he suspects the man was an enemy sympathiser. After killing him the brothers lock his young daughter in a dark underground cellar and leave her.

The younger of the two is torn up with guilt at abandoning the innocent girl to die trapped and keeps seeing her, believing she’s following them even though his brother does his best to convince him she’s a casualty of war.

When the line goes straight through a forbidding swamp the party assume is uninhabited, they find a small village at the centre where the people are timid and guarded. Not far away is the sauna of the title, a low, squat building the size of a shipping container in the middle of a freezing pond, and records found in the village tell the men it’s a magical place that will cleanse them of their sins.

But they have to face them first, and after several of their party go inside and disappear without a trace, the younger brother follows them to absolve his guilt about the girl, only to find a grotesque version of her inside, her face gone and pouring black oil, hell bent on avenging herself.

The elder brother tries to hold onto reason to work out what’s gone so wrong and what the villagers are hiding, but he knows he’s going to have to step inside and face his transgressions sooner or later.

The story mostly makes sense although some of the best sequences — particularly the climatic one — will have you scratching your head even while you pick your jaw up off the floor. The picture is extremely high quality, every snowdrift and brooding tree rendered in vivid detail. You can almost feel the freezing crispness of the dirty water and hard-bitten ground, and while it won’t compete with far flashier horror efforts, The Sauna is something you’ve never seen before.


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