In Finland, during the final days of World War II, the Lapland War is in progress. Finland has signed an armistice with the USSR dictating that Finnish forces must disarm and drive the Nazis out. On their way, North to German occupied Norway the Nazis adopt a scorched earth policy, destroying everything in their path.
In the wilderness removed from the war, a solitary and grizzled old prospector named Aatami (Jorma Tommila) mines for gold. He strikes a veritable bonanza, a vein so big as to provide for him the rest of his days. As he is transporting his find back to civilisation, he is set upon by a platoon of bloodthirsty Nazis. Soldiers who know the war is lost and the only thing waiting for them in Norway is a noose. They believe their luck has changed and all they need do is take this gold for themselves.
But these Nazis have no idea who they just fucked with. Aatami is an ex-commando, a one-man death squad who refused to die no matter what his enemy threw at him. A man who has had everything in life taken from him and refuses to give up anymore. He’s going to show these Nazis the real meaning of scorched earth!
Written and directed by Jelmari Helander, Sisu is a film 100% about facing insurmountable odds. It came about after Covid restrictions scuttled another production leading Helander to craft a low budget movie with vast open area settings. A very Finnish story inspired by local legends and history, the title ‘Sisu’ itself being a somewhat untranslatable Finnish word basically referring to someone showing “true grit”.
It’s very fitting as Sisu is something of a western against a WW2 backdrop. Complete with a lonesome hero facing off against despicable thugs and taking them down a peg. The plot of Sisu is incredibly simple despite its stylish titled chapter format. It quickly becomes a chase movie of sorts where the predator doesn’t quite realise that they are actually prey to a deadlier foe until it’s too late!
While we awaited Sisu‘s local release, a comparison I often saw made online was that of “John Wick meets Inglourious Basterds“. On its face I can agree with that, although the variations speak more to a difference in focus here. Helander isn’t at all interested in presenting the deep characters, intrigue, or dialogue which made Tarantino’s epic so brilliant. Largely, the only thing in common is the presentation of Nazi killing. LOTS of Nazi killings in as brutal ways as possible.
To be honest, what else would you be looking for in a film such as this? Helander knows his audience desires Nazi blood and he serves it up by the bucket load! The film is at its best when fully indulging in the sheer mindless fun of it all as Aatami slaughters his enemy in more and more creative and brutal ways, at times reaching ridiculously amusing parody levels.
On the downside Aatami‘s never say die (internally at least) attitude is often aided more by the film’s leaps in logic and deus ex machinas than his own knowhow or abilities. Fight scenes lack the tight editing and choreography of John Wick, presumably accounting for the aged lead actor. But again, the film is a total blast when its ‘Rambo: First Blood’ inspiration is on display. I’ve seen a lot of violent movies and I absolutely loved it when Helander comes up with something I’ve never seen done before. Who needs underwater scuba tanks when you can steal the very air your enemies breathe!
Some awkward CGI stands out at times but beyond that Sisu looks and sounds absolutely incredible. From visceral reds of increasingly gory carnage to the war-ravaged wastes of Finland, Kjell Lagerroos‘ cinematography is simply gorgeous. The sound design by Panu Riikonen as well elevates this low budget feature to blockbuster territory, enhancing the cinematic experience of this film with its sounds of gunfire, rolling tanks, fighter planes and other sounds of the German Wehrmacht blast throughout the cinema.
Sisu is a simple yet enjoyable flick which delivers on its promise of extreme comic style violence and gore. Although the film could have featured stronger characters and dialogue, it’s still an extremely fun movie and is exactly the kind of movie to sit back with some friends, turn your brain off and have a ball with.