An intelligent screenplay, let alone an intelligent horror screenplay is something that we don’t see too often; however when we do come across a scary flick with some brains behind it, it isn’t something that should be overlooked. AJ Annila’s Finnish film Sauna or “Filth” is one of the more unique films I’ve seen in a long while. Taking place after a brutal war in the 16th century, this historically fictitious horror is one part Kenneth Branaugh flick, one part classic horror. To be blunt, this is a horror film for those who may not be exactly…horror fans.
This is a psyche screwing horror film concentrating in the Finnish steam cleansing culture, while in the limbo land between Christianity and paganism. The film is the tale of two brothers, who commit a most terrible sin by leaving a young girl to die a gruesome death. It is then that they find themselves being haunted by her, as she follows them in a ghost-like form with her face pouring with endless filth. The brothers escape with a commission marking the border between Russia and Finland to a Russian-Orthodox village. In there they find a Sauna said to wash all sins away.
Sauna doesn’t contain a ton of gore, blood, or jump scares so if you’re into that whole ideal…this isn’t the film for you. What Sauna lacks in gore and blood it more than makes up for with tension, intensity, and even a tad bit of confusion. Annila definitely doesn’t hold your hand through the film and you actually have to use your mind to put the pieces together. While many people have the ability to do so, most of the world does not so I fear this film is going to be overlooked and blow over the heads of the average movie fan. There are layers upon layers of subtext that could be argued and interpreted which keeps me wanting to watch the film again, but I’m not sure I could say the same thing for your average movie go-er.
Annila has proven to us that you don’t need an overabundance of prosthetic limbs and blood to make a creepy flick. I’ll admit my heart raced a little more every time the piercing white visual of the very J-Horror appearing ghostly girl popped up on my screen. Then again, I have an unbridled problem with the long, stringy, wet haired pale chicks. The pacing is a bit slow for my liking, but the film isn’t supposed to be moving fast. It’s a ton of build up for a relatively nice pay-off that the die hards will love.
The film is absolutely beautiful to watch with its absolutely striking visuals, stunning use of atmosphere, and absolutely eerie tension built up by the camera shots. The imagery is absolutely haunting and seeing a dead ghost girl without being riddled with CGI is something you learn to appreciate. The acting is phenomenal and the fact they could turn a relatively simple swamp into something interesting to look at should be duly noted. Sauna is one of those films that may possibly never get the proper recognition that it deserves.