Film: Evil Rising
UK Release date: 25th July 2011
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila
Starring: Ville Virtanen, Tommi Eronen, Viktor Klimenko
Running time: 83 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
The name change is a little misleading perhaps, but there’s much to recommend about Antti-Jussi Annila’s slow burning Finnish horror hit. Sauna was released back home in 2008, a striking experience if ever there was one, but not in the way a name like Evil Rising might suggest. Sauna is a haunting, thoughtful, sombre affair that refuses to conform to modern day excess. Not quite what I was expecting from a film called Evil Rising, all it’s really missing is an exclamation mark, then at least we would surely have a candidate for ‘Most redundant film title of the year.’
It’s 1595 and the end of a twenty-five year war between Russia and Finland. Finnish brothers Eerik (Ville Virtanen) and Knut Spore (Tommi Eronen) have been commissioned to meet with Russian soldiers to form a joint commission that marks the new border. Eerik has only ever known war; he even keeps a count of the number of deaths he’s responsible for. His glasses suggest a wise exterior, but it’s Knut who keeps the brothers from losing their way. As soon as the mission is complete, Knut plans to take up a professor’s post at a Swedish university far away from the destructive nature of war.
While waiting to meet with the Russians, the brothers take shelter with a Russian peasant and his daughter. After an altercation, Eerik kills the old man and locks the girl in a cellar. Eerik tells Knut that he’s released the daughter, and they move on to complete their mission. What he’s actually done is left the girl in the cellar to die. Knut’s guilt begins to grow, bringing on haunting visions of the girl, not to mention a wealth of torment and despair. Soon after, they discover a mysterious sauna in the middle of a swamp, close to an uncharted village where they choose to take shelter. As it turns out, the village they’ve discovered might not be a village at all, and in order to free themselves of their sins, they must take a step inside the sauna…
Evil Rising makes the most of drowned out colours and baron wastelands, presenting a world that’s both bleak and raw. The film oozes atmosphere from every pore, with a sound design that’s used sparingly and effectively throughout. There’s a sinister unease that grows as the characters unravel, and the films greatest strength lies not in cheap jump cuts and booming bass lines, but in a slow bleed of visual finesse that tugs gently on your deep-rooted fear.
Beautiful cinematography and effective sound design will only get you so far though, and unfortunately Evil Rising suffers from a cumbersome pace that’s as dull as the landscape it bathes in. The premise is intriguing enough, but if you like a sense of fulfilment from your favourite pass time, you’re better off looking elsewhere. I love ambiguous endings in movies, but when a film is paced so leisurely, it’s nice to have something to draw you back in. Evil Rising lacks punch, and the final moments leave you with more questions than answers. Some would say the ending is vague; others might use the word lazy.
Evil Rising offers very little in the way of traditional shocks and scares, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but a plodding pace detracts from the gloomy atmosphere, and a lack of closure serves only to frustrate. Stunning visuals, effective music and solid performances are worthy of praise, but even the best haunted house ride fails to shake the nerves like an adrenaline thumping roller coaster. If Antti-Jussi Annila can find a screenplay to match his ability behind the camera, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll be the one to watch.