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-[Film Reviews]-, European Cinema

Finland’s Cinematic Winter Warfare: ‘Hatching’ & ‘Sisu’ (2022)

Directed by: Hanna Bergholm [1], Jalmari Helander [2] || Produced by: Mika Ritalahti, Niko Ritalahti, Nima Yousefi [1], Petri Jokiranta [2]

Screenplay by: Ilja Rautsi [1], Jalmari Helander [2] || Starring: Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin, Saija Lentonen [1], Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo [2]

Music by: Stein Berge Svendsen [1], Juri Seppä, Tuomas Wäinölä [2] || Cinematography: Jarkko T. Laine [1], Kjell Lagerroos [2] || Edited by: Linda Jildalm [1], Juho Virolainen [2] || Country: Finland || Language: Finnish [1, 2], English [2]

Running Time: 91 minutes [1, 2] || 1 = Hatching, 2 = Sisu

Before I ever met anyone from Finland, I was familiar with their highly developed, progressive Northern European society detailed in various encyclopedic rankings of their impressive human development indices (composite measures of life expectancy, education, and per capita income) and Gini coefficients (a measure of income/wealth/consumption inequality). The country always stuck out to me on the map, alongside its Nordic cousins of Norway, Sweden, Denmark (i.e. Scandinavia), and Iceland as the freest, most well regulated, “happiest” places on earth, all despite — or maybe in part because of — being so far north in the Arctic cold.

My familiarity with the cinema of those countries was limited to the Swedish works of Ingmar Bergman until quite recently, and my recent binge of Norwegian cinema was a nice change of pace from my usual samplings of international cinema from South Asia (India almost exclusively), East Asia (i.e. Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong), and Latin America (Mexico and Brazil, mostly). Late last year I sampled my first Finnish picture, Hatching, another metaphorical horror movie from first-time filmmaker Hanna Bergholm, and this week I saw in theatres the English-language Finnish action movie, Sisu, from established writer-director Jalmari Helander. Both films couldn’t be more different from each other in tone, yet each showcase that tenacious, auteur-driven spirit is alive across the Fennoscandian Peninsula.

Top: Siiri Solalinna cares for an abnormally large crow egg in Hatching’s first act. Bottom: The FX on Solalinna’s doppelgänger are so effective I can’t tell whether they’re digital or makeup!

First to discuss is Hatching (Finnish = Pahanhautoja), which uses the classical “monster-as-metaphor” plot gimmick to explore topics from social media influencers, demonstrating one’s social class (i.e. “keeping up with the Joneses”), repressed negative emotions, to female role-models, specifically mother-daughter bonding. In literal narrative terms, Hatching involves lead child actress Siiri Solalinna trying to live up to the high expectations of her demanding mother (Sophia Heikkilä), whose pristine upper middle-class family image the latter guards like a hawk. After Heikkilä snaps the neck of a random crow who dares to accidentally fly into their sterile, airbrushed home, Solalinna rescues a lone egg from its nest to raise as her own out of guilt. The egg somehow grows into monstrous proportions until it hatches into a humanoid avian creature, which then develops into an aggressive, violent doppelgänger of our lead actress.

The thematic imagery of Hatching isn’t subtle a la many recent popular horror films (e.g. It Follows [2014], The Witch [2015], Get Out [2017], Hereditary [2018], Men [2022], etc.), but also like much of contemporary horror, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Solalinna and Heikkilä’s relationship form the heart of the film, so their chemistry and the former’s dual performances as both the protagonist’s id and superego are more than up to snuff. The practical FX of the anthropomorphized bird-monster are gross, memorable, and appropriate, contrasting strongly with the stark, clean, straight-laced interior of most indoor sets. While the camerawork won’t win any major awards for its innovative techniques or flashy oners (there aren’t any), I appreciate director of photography Jarkko T. Laine’s visual restraint that allows viewers to absorb the detailed, purposeful mise-en-scène of every shot. Hatching is a modern horror film first, yes, but it is also a theatrical European artpiece inside its genre shell.  

Sisu (Finnish for a sort of stoic determination, bravery, or grit), by contrast, is the third feature by veteran filmmaker Helander, who makes no bones about his practical combination of old-school Hollywood action techniques with contemporary filmmaking technology and a Finnish historical backdrop. Besides its majority English-language dialogue, which I found somewhat distracting in this Finns vs. Nazis, World War II-era grindhouse homage, the greatest Hollywood influences in this action film are its obvious connections to the Rambo (1982, 1985, 1988, 2008, 2019) movies. Several diegetic references to the earlier Winter War (1939-1940) between Finland and Russia, the ongoing, brief Lapland War (1944-1945) between Finland and Nazi Germany depicted in the film, and perhaps the most lethal military sniper who ever lived, Simo Häyhä, are the minor Nordic cultural garnishes that distinguish Sisu from your typical low-to-mid budgeted action thriller greenlit in the wake of the John Wick (20142023) franchise’s success.

Much like how Hatching’s metaphorical horror is obvious without feeling heavyhanded, I don’t find Sisu’s Hollywood ancestry a weakness because of its chief auteur’s impressive execution. The location-photography in the Finnish Lapland does much to separate the otherwise formulaic script from its Hollywood predecessors and is incorporated into the story via numerous memorable action sequences. The action itself is deliberate, brutal, and gory without copying the styles of more popular recent action series (e.g. The Raid [2011, 2014], the aforementioned John Wick, Extraction [2020], etc.), and takes advantage of period military technology like tanks, landmines, and the classic Nazi MP 40 submachine gun. The only things worth complaining about pertain to some drags in pacing in the second act — a notable problem in a 91-minute story — as well as multiple contrivances where the German antagonists could’ve easily executed Jorma Tommila’s lead but drag their feet about it. There’s plot armor and then there are seriously unearned levels of disbelief the audience must suspend to explain how our grizzled hero survives.

Lead Jorma Tommila sets off a German landmine to distract his Nazi attackers in Sisu.

Despite my general belief that most of the best art, film included, is produced by people who are young and pissed off (i.e. the hungry, starving artist with something to prove), apparently highly developed economies based on the Nordic social model still produce, if not nurture powerful filmmakers. I commend Hatching and Sisu for executing established genre formula with aplomb and just enough identifiable Finnish flavor to set them apart from Hollywood’s assembly line film production, and look forward to what their auteurs create in the future.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Hatching showcases horror’s continued effectiveness at social commentary through creative mise-en-scène, memorable creature FX, and great child performances, while Sisu wears its Sylvester Stallone-influences on its sleave with pride. Who doesn’t like flying limbs, dismembered fascists, and tanks set against the landscapes of northern Finland?

However… Hatching’s analysis of repressed emotions and female-female relationships are so obvious you can guess where the story’s going, while Sisu needed a script doctor to better explain its lead’s implausible survivability.

—> Both films come RECOMMENDED.

? There has to be a more efficient way to search for landmines than sacrificing one’s own soldiers.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


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