18th Jul2023

‘Sisu’ VOD Review

by Chris Thomas

Stars: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila | Written and Directed by Jalmari Helander

Our film tells us that Sisu is an untranslatable Finnish word, for extreme courage. I would debate who that word is supposed to apply to, as our protagonist here is an unfeeling mass murderer Perhaps it refers best to the rape victims of the Nazis, doing their best to survive.

Sisu had me thinking about real history. If I were to create a list of all the peoples and counties who had a legitimate beef with Nazi Germany, during the Second World War the Jews would be at the top and Finland would be at the very bottom. Finland was in a horrible position (literally) as it fought a nasty civil war, to keep Stalin from taking control of their country, but in doing so they signed a pact with the devil, and for most of the war, actively helped the Nazis.

In Sisu, we find ourselves in 1944 Lapland (the very North of Finland). Finland has cut a deal with Stalin, and the Germans are on a fighting retreat, out of Finland, and ordered back to Norway. We can tell the Germans are not nice people. They are murdering rapists (don’t feel bad for them).

Our protagonist is a grizzled old Finnish soldier (actually, he is THE grizzled old Finnish soldier). He has decided to leave the war behind him and become a gold miner. He finds a seam of gold. Thrilled he packs it up and takes it with him. Said German convoy bumps into our protagonist, and decide they want the gold. You can see where this is heading…

The Germans follow our hero (towards the approaching Soviets, and away from their escape) and carnage ensues. The wilderness is harsh and unforgiving, as is our hero and the baddies. Everyone and everything is dirty and despoiled. The only precious thing seems to be the gold, which has an almost holy glow about it. The German commander reasons that Germany is soon to lose the war, and they are all going to be hanged as war criminals, the gold somehow represents a way for the mass murders to buy their lives, if only they could get it from this pesky old man.

Acting is good, the Nazis leaders are not too hammy, in a way some of the soldiers absolutely are – the idea of murdering an old man is apparently “really funny”. I would have thought, given the number of murders these guys have already committed plus the stress they should be under to escape this barren land, that was once an ally but has now flipped, with the red army in hot pursuit, I am not really sure why they are having quite such a brilliant time being war criminals. Not when it is so clear that the “game is up”.

Sisu is a simple, nasty (not in a bad way) revenge romp, that features stylish murders, cool set pieces and a fair amount of absolutely bonkers death and destruction. It is also a film where the trailer shows you entirely too many of the best bits, and basically gives you a plot synopsis. But stay away from the trailer… The barren landscape serves as a beautiful and eerie backdrop for all the bullets, explosions and frantic stabbing you would expect of the revenge genre.

At times I did lose my patience with how silly the plot is. Our hero is sleeping under a burned out German truck, metres from the road. It is the only thing, in the barren wasteland, for miles around. He has been picking out hunks of shrapnel from his body (including his knee), with his big knife. The German convoy (who are ONLY trying to catch him) pass 2 metres from him, and no one bothers to look at or under the only thing worth looking at, as he cowers in plain sight. The Germans also have two sniffer dogs, but for some reason, they are at the back of the convoy. Our hero then manages, despite his grievous wounds (and the fact he has on foot been outpacing the motorized convoy, by enough time to have a snooze) to then have the upper body strength to roll under a moving truck, grab on to it, while it drives along a very rocky road and sabotage the fuel tank with his knife. No one spots him, despite the fact the whole convoy is supposed to be looking for him. Also remember, he is also really old. These revenge romps are often unrealistic, but there is a big credibility gap in Sisu that I do find frustrating at times.

Sisu is a very fine 1980s B-movie romp that is silly in the same way John Wick is silly. Our protagonists get badly hurt, but they are basically invincible in a way that John McClain, in the original Die Hard, never was. That is OK, they are the invincible avatar of vengeance, and I enjoy these films, I just prefer my action starts to be a bit more flawed and vulnerable. I am also pretty convinced that our protagonist here is a brutal psychopath and any notion of heroism drowns in the mud of Lapland.

Sisu is out now on UK digital platforms, the film comes to physical media in September.


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