Sauna (2008) Poster


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Original, compelling and truly intense
u99249124 July 2010
I've been watching horror since childhood, and it has become a tiring, arduous task trying to find a flick that satisfies my elitist craving. I can't begin to tell you how happy (and genuinely frightened) I was to watch this.

Everything about this movie is original. Set in 16th century Europe, the story's foundations are firmly planted in realism. The horror comes from masterful application of suspense, fear and dread that is gradually introduced in each scene. By the time you reach the climax you're paralytic; gripped by fear – eager to watch to the end but terrified by what may happen next.

Having said that, this movie isn't for everyone. If you're after a bunch of over-sexed, blonde and artificially enhanced teenagers being hunted down by a knife yielding psycho – you're gonna hate this. If you're after fast-paced action, you'll be yawning throughout the film. If you're after a complex horror film marked by developed characterisation, a unique premise and set in an unfamiliar time in history, you will be pleased.

This is a rare, horror film that focuses on atmosphere and restrained script-writing, resulting in a mature, sophisticated experience for the discerning viewer. Grab a glass of red and enjoy!
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Like guilt, this horror sticks with you
Cujo10823 August 2010
Following the end of the decades-long war between Russia and Sweden, a group of soldiers from both countries is assigned the task of defining a new border. Among this group are Eerik and Knut, two brothers who couldn't be more different. The former is a vicious soldier who has been fighting his entire life, while the latter is a civilized collegian who came along due to his expertise in crafting maps. On a scouting run separate from the rest of the group, the two encounter a farmer and his daughter. Bad things happen and the brothers rejoin the expedition the next morning, but what transpired at the remote farm leads to severe feelings of guilt for Knut. He even feels that he's being followed. Continuing their trek across the barren terrain, the men eventually come across a mysterious town where no such place should logically exist. What's more, something seems very off with the inhabitants and, more importantly, with the sauna that stands just outside of the village's reach.

I caught this back in early December on a cold, dreary night. As much as I despise cold weather, it actually made for a fitting atmosphere in which to watch this film. Not just because of the snowy locales or skies drained of color, but also due to the chilling predicament of the characters and the weight of the film's themes. Sauna is a picture that festered in my mind for a good while afterward. I didn't know what to expect going in, but I came out thinking that this was one of the most intriguing horror films I had seen in years. I bought the DVD shortly after my initial viewing, though I still have yet to revisit it. All these months later, it continues to pop back into my head from time to time. It has stayed with me in a way that only a truly haunting piece of work could. I intend to re-watch it when I feel that the timing is right, not before.

The film boasts a strong period setting and some effectively unsettling moments (all about that first time Knut catches a glimpse of a figure across the swamp) set against a mood of pure despair. The characters here are as cold and gloomy as the atmosphere which surrounds them. The acting is resoundingly strong across the board, most notably that of Ville Virtanen as the bloodthirsty Eerik. His character is that of a murderous sociopath who has never known anything but war, yet Virtanen instills the part with a certain sense of empathy and regret underneath the seething hatred. We are also privy to cinematography that, while dark and drained of life, has an exquisite beauty to it. You really feel the chilled air right along with the characters. I'm still not sure that I fully understand everything that goes on in the film, but hey, half of the fun is speculating. There are numerous layers here to keep your mind busy with interpretation. Oh, and the ending is quite something as well!

Alas, discussion around the web appears to be sparse when it comes to this title. If you like eerie, artistic horror, you owe it to yourself to give Sauna a shot. You may not care for it, as this kind of film will never be for everyone, but you will witness one of the more unique genre entries in many a year. All in all, it's a fascinating film that is rewarding in more ways than I can count.
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Excellent Contemplative Horror
peas-n-carrots25 October 2008
Having premiered his debut feature "Jade Warrior" at Toronto in 2006, A.J. Annila returned with his second film "Sauna", yet another blend of two unexpected genres. He was originally approached to make the movie as a teen slasher-comedy, but thankfully the producers had enough faith in him to make a serious horror movie that would appeal to both the art house crowd and die hard horror fans.

Sauna follows a group of Swedish and Russian soldiers who are assigning new borders after a decades long war between the two countries has ended. In this group are two brothers; Erik, the lifelong soldier who keeps a running tally of the innocent people he's killed, and Knut, the younger more pacifist brother who is part of the group because he is an expert mapmaker. After an unexpected encounter with a farmer and his daughter, the two are haunted by unshakable guilt as they continue with the expedition. The soldiers find a small isolated village in the very center of a large swamp, an eerie place where no children have been born in years and the old do not die. It seems almost as if God has forgotten them.

With the discovery of the village and its solitary sauna, Annila builds on the horror aspects of the film and presents some genuinely scary images. The review on the TIFF website says the film recalls both Tarkovsky and Eli Roth, and I agree; Sauna is at once contemplative and terrifying. It raises questions about morality and guilt, and at the same time has scenes that are as scary as a Japanese ghost horror. The acting from Ville Virtanen and Tommi Eronen, who played the brothers, was superb. The cinematography was was also really beautiful. Overall, I feel like this is one of the best horrors of the last few years and it is highly recommended. 8/10
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Finland showing cinematic muscles
Onderhond18 March 2009
Euro-horror is doing good business lately. France, Great-Britain and Spain are all battling on the front lines, but smaller countries like Belgium are producing splendid genre works too. Enter Finland, a somewhat cinematic void for me, showing their muscles with Sauna. A horror film that fairs well with its European peers but also succeeds in giving Finnish cinema a face, although a grim one.

The film's premise is kept rather vague and for people not living close to Finland or familiar with its history the film might take a flying start. Two teams, one Finnish and one Russian, are sent out to draft a new border after a long-raging war. They cross the barren lands in order to fight a more civilized war in trying to decide who gets what. Even though the film is set a good 400 years back in history, it could've well been just 50 years ago. Not that the film looks too modern for its setting, it's just that the characters are never really surrounded by recognizable cultural references. Safe from a pair of glasses and the clothing, it's all swamp and unforgiving nature that is served to the audience.

The two teams don't get along very well, but the one really stirring things up is Erik, a long-life warrior who has trouble adjusting to the new-found peace. Even though he wears glasses to fake a distinguished look, he is a true barbarian, murdering and abusing everyone coming across his way. The only one he seems to care for is his little brother, who was sheltered from the war as college student. The first half of the film is spent drawing out the relationships between the different characters, giving the audience some time to adjust to the happenings in the film. From the moment they arrive in an unlisted village in the middle of a swamp, the the core plot and the titular Sauna make their entrance.

Sauna has a couple of things going for it. First of all there is the performance of Ville Virtanen, portraying the Erik character as someone that is simply terrifying. As simple as those glasses may be, they make him out as someone with a certain sense of civilization while in reality he is as bad as they come by. His performance is hard as nails and unsettling. The rest of the casts plays along nicely, although none of them really make a big impression.

Visually the film is very consistent. Grey, dark colors and rough landscapes make up most of the visual scenery. No bright colors are seen, even the blood in the film is dark red, almost black. The camera work is solid too and helps in setting the atmosphere nicely. But even though it gives the film plenty of flair, there's never that little extra to make the film rise above its rivals. The soundtrack too is extremely fitting, with some very nifty sound deformations and good, supporting music. It has an ambient-like quality only furthering the grim and dark atmosphere of the film.

As the film progresses the story is slowly revealed an even though the premise is intriguing, you'll be left guessing at least for a little on how it all fits together. The ending is somewhat vague and even though impressive, won't bring you any clear answers. Looking back at the film, it has a lot of parallels with Vinyan (even small details - just think of the shots of water becoming blood-soaked), though Sauna is a much more subdued film, without any real climaxes or cinematic bursts. Depending on what you like more, you might prefer this one over Vinyan which has more curves compared to the straight line that is this film.

Nonetheless, Sauna is an impressive experience, solid in just about every department. Extremely strong lead, nice and fitting visuals, great soundtrack and intriguing storyline. And if you won't miss the climaxes, this will be exactly your thing. A recommendation for all fans of European horror out there. Just don't be expecting guts and gore, Sauna plays at atmosphere, grit and travels through the darker parts of the human mind. 4.0*/5.0*
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minimalist, oblique, Shakespearean horror (interesting!)
kimberlytp28 March 2009
Two brothers, part of a border-recognition treaty detachment after a very long war, confront and deal with the wartime acts of brutality and violence of the older brother. The older brother has been part of this war for 25 years; the younger brother has been studying to become a professor and has been comparatively sheltered from the horrors. The younger brother comes face to face with his older brother's moral deterioration, and, disturbed by the older brother's acts of war, eventually persuades (and forces) the older brother to completely atone for those actions. The amount of spookiness achieved with no special effects other than blood, is truly remarkable, and a lesson for Hollywood. And in the end, the viewer is left with an uncertainty as to who must pay for sins, and why, and whether anyone, ever, is truly innocent.
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This thing is an unmitigated GEM ! ! !
Richard Virga3 February 2010
when you watch Sauna you have no sensation of watching a movie, rather the screen becomes a window and you are observing reality. this is an engine running on all strong cylinders: the score matches the mood, it accents and reinforces the dialog and action. the acting is superb, by everyone. there is no sense of acting. the older Spore is a dynamo of revealing restraint. the cinematography is flawless, there's not a weak shot from start to 'finnish'. every shot is lit like a work of art. the editing is sharp and crisp. the pacing is deliberate and inexorable, though slow, you cannot drift because of the quality of the work. now, obviously, all this could not have been done without one Hell of a director! i've watched it three times so that i can internalize the subtitles and concentrate on the rest of the movie. i could watch this thing at 1/2 speed and still love it!
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Curate's egg
thelittleother26 July 2011
I had quite high expectations of this movie and was a bit disappointed. It's an unusual, intelligent and creepy ghost story, but it has an ambition to do something more distinctive that I didn't feel was followed through completely.

The performances and screenplay are fine. The film is nicely shot, with some lovely moments but also some lapses into generic horror-movie gestures. The sauna itself is a fine addition to the history of scary buildings in movies -- it looks as if it doesn't belong in the landscape at all, and the minute you see it you know something's wrong. The cheesy orchestral score lets the film down a bit, though.

Not all of the things that happen along the way are explained; some of them just seem to be put there for the sake of being scary. The ending is impressive but it left me wondering whether all the pieces leading up to it really fitted together.

I suppose two different films seem to be fighting over the same 90 minutes: an art-house movie that uses elements of fairy tale to explore existential questions about sin and redemption and a haunted-house movie that works by jump-scares, toothless villagers and gushing blood. The two never really came together for me, but I can't say I didn't enjoy the ride.
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Multi-layered Movie (it can be as deeper than a horror movie, if you want)
dfunkhou6 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There are multiple layers of interest in this film. On one hand, it's an entertaining horror movie for those that just want a Friday night film, and on the other, deeper hand it provides those who want a message something to take away from the theater with. I was there for the world prim- ere in Toronto and the director was there to share with us what he intended to say in the movie. It's not especially profound, but wise none-the-less. He said that if you go too far along in life without facing those you hurt then eventually it's too late to make amends, that eventually if you try to face your victims, they'll be faceless. He did say parts of the film were left up for interpretation, but overall, it seemed like there was little left that remained open. So, enjoy a great atmospheric horror movie (and it is a great horror movie in itself) or look for more.
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Great looks, probably deep ideas, but a slow pace
siderite26 July 2009
The movie is beautifully done, with dark wet imagery and good acting. However, you either have to be Finnish to understand or I was too tired to get the message. All I could get was that for the Finns the sauna is a cultural heirloom, dating way before their christianizing, a place where they believed to wash their sins. Finns and their sins. Sorry, couldn't help it :) However, left long enough to rot, those sins become unattonable and even if you face them, it is pointless. I guess this is one of those life lessons that the Christian religion is desperately trying to hide from us.

Anyway, as I said, great imagery and the feeling of desolation and burden of sin is almost palpable. I liked the characters as well, deep and sharp. However, it was a slow thing and never in the movie there was any "aha!" moment. One has to make an effort to watch the film and to understand it. Being Finnish probably helps, too.
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Horror Movie, not quite
dschmeding5 April 2009
If someone told me "hey, watch this movie about a haunted sauna, its a really scary horror movie!".. I guess I'd stay as far away from the movie as possible. Luckily I saw some pictures of this Finnish movie and they looked really great.

Everyone looking for a horror movie should stay away from this. Its pretty laughable that so many people focus on the sauna and some ghosts in this movie as typical horror clichés while the director works so obviously on making every single piece and image in this movie a symbol for guilt.

"Sauna" or "Filth" (which is the far more fitting title referring to a statement by one of the Russian soldiers in this movie) is placed after the Russian/Swedish war around 1600 when a group of Russian and Swedish soldiers are setting for the new borders. The opening of the movie with the drawing of borders in blood and then the first shots of water turning red already indicate where this movie is going. Everything is carried by some great cinematography and the lead characters, 2 brothers of a very different kind. One is Knut, a mapmaker with high goals, the other is Erik, a soldier with a grim past who has his problems adjusting to the new peace.

Erik constantly looking for trouble soon gets the group of soldiers into problems when messing with a family. The town the group soon finds in the middle of a swamp becomes a clear symbol of Erics previous atrocities with as many inhabitants as victims on Erics list, a strange girl reminding them of recent wrongdoings (also involving a sauna) and animals and people who clawed out their eyes. The whole issue of not being able to face your past is present throughout the movie that is more like a fable. There is plenty of interesting historical information as well as philosophical dialog including the story about the king and filth or the thoughts if hell is just a place that god turned his back on. The place is soon presented and the irony is that yet everyone is fighting for the land soon there is a place that no one wants to take but rather wants to give to his enemy.

"Sauna" is full of these abstract images and the finale is far from a clear resolution. After all the director clearly tries to make the viewer have his own thoughts. Actually I am still working on figuring the closing images out but however this is a damn interesting and different movie with great cinematography, acting and an interesting setting. There sure are some horror elements in this movie, but I'd rather consider this a mix of art-house movie and drama and its definitely worth giving a chance.
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