One of the more popular crazes in recent memory has centered around hyper gory exaggerated violence as a sub-genre in the action film category. Though films of this nature have been around for quite some time, recent films like John Wick and its subsequent sequels, Nobody, Taken and its respective sequels and Wanted have popularized the genre even more so with numerous films popping up across the plethora of streaming services. There’s Gunpowder Milkshake and Kate to round out the picture. For one, these films are cheaper to make, providing a lucrative ROI based on the stylistic and seemingly infinite number of ways to kill a person and two, they are quite adept at constructing a hero or heroine to encourage in their rage fueled vengeance.
Who doesn’t love a blood-soaked revenge thrill ride where the body count reaches astronomical numbers. Just as the saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Sisu, the latest in this fantastical sub-genre follows the formula to the letter with extra incentive to see the mayhem unfold – the villains are Nazi’s during the end of World War 2. Think Tarentino’s Inglorious Basterds meets John Wick but the brilliant marketing team behind Sisu make’s one thing abundantly clear – the dog doesn’t die.
Perfect awareness for those who refuse to watch a film if a furry domesticated animal dies in a film. I can confirm, dog lovers rest assured, the adorable four-legged friend survives the entirety of the 91-minute journey.
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, Sisu, as I mentioned takes place at the tail end of World War 2 in the vast wilderness of Lapland, Finland. The Nazi’s have enacted a scorched earth policy as they become surrounded by the Finnish Army. It’s in this beautifully breathtaking terrain that we are introduced to the protagonist, whom we later learn that his name is Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila). For 99% of the film, Aatami doesn’t speak a single word. And you thought John Wick didn’t say much. Aatami is a veteran of the Winter War turned gold prospector and a known legend “Koschei”, translated to English as “The Immortal”.
Told in a series of chapters, Aatami comes across a sizeable discovery of gold nuggets, which he collects in his pack and sets off for the nearest town with a bank. On his journey, he encounters a company of Nazi soldiers led by Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie) who gives the order to kill both Aatami and his dog, unsuccessfully every single time. Each chapter progresses the conflict and both men’s desire to kill one another with the body count piling up (exclusively the Nazi’s). Aatami simply refuses to die and the rare moments of rest, depict the living legend – battered but still breathing with red in his eyes.
As premises go, Sisu falls on the basic side of the spectrum. There is rarely a point of character development or any depth to its small ensemble cast nor does there need to be. A film of this caliber, tight and focused on its goal isn’t reinventing the wheel, Aatami is set in his ways – he’s a good and honorable man, set out to destroy evil in the most highly entertaining and bloody ways possible.
The lack of dialogue from Aatami doesn’t take away from the character’s intimidation factor either. It’s here that Jorma sells his characters vengeance without much effort. His cold, blank, expressionless eyes when killing Nazi’s is quickly transitioned to thoughtful hope when protecting his dog or the prisoners the company of Nazi’s take from the burned down villages. Helander’s script is further proof that anyone can find solace in the death of Nazi – Sisu firmly sticks the landing with the delicious variations these villains die. Each one more spectacular than the previous.
Outside of Aatami’s journey, Helander sets up a subplot with the captured prisoners the Nazi’s abuse, providing the grounds for a separately satisfying moment during the climax. Leading the fight against the captors is Aino (Mimosa Willamo) furthering the excuse to see these villainous Nazi’s burn to the ground. With the minimal screen time, Mimosa soaks up the spotlight from her rugged and bruised counterpart. And with one rousingly pleasing scene, a spin-off about these women is absolutely necessary if a franchise were to be constructed going forward
Among the dismembered body parts blown to bits from the mine fields and machine gun fire in the foreground, cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos sets the beauty of the remote Lapland wilderness as the background. Stunning displays of sweeping shots capture the scale for Helander’s film, but for how breathtaking the landscape is, the action stays grounded through intimate moments. Complimenting the adrenaline rush from Nazi disembowelments is a gritty and grunge heavy score by the duo Juri Seppä & Tuomas Wäinölä. Every superhero needs their own theme music, and the pair create an unforgettable one as Aatami lives up to the legend that has been bestowed upon him.
With Sisu, the expectations going in are met 100-fold with all the blood, guts and gore plus so much more up its muddied sleeves. Endlessly entertaining, Jorma Tommila provides unfathomable depth to a mostly dialogue-less role but makes up for it with a stoic and poised performance. Compared to the near 3-hour John Wick Chapter 4, Sisu is a breeze to get through, Helander steadily builds the anticipation of Nazi death through a tense atmosphere and unpredictable environment. Over the top and nonsensical some parts may be, a certain level of suspended disbelief should be held on to. However, killing a man who refuses to die proves easier said than done.
Screenplay By: Jalmari Helander
Directed By: Jalmari Helander
Music By: Juri Seppä & Tuomas Wäinölä
Cinematography: Kjell Lagerroos
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila
Original Language: Finnish
Edited By: Juho Virolainen
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 31 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%