Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Movie Appraisal: Sauna: Wash Your Sins (2008)

Sauna is one of the best films I've seen in a VERY LONG time. Sure, I've said good things about 1408, Jacob's Ladder, and Zombieland, but those movies respectively I've either seen before years and years ago and therefore do not count as recent films I've encountered, or count as a really fun ride kind of movie with flaws here and there, but not necessarily worthy of acting awards. There's a "subtle" difference between acting in Zombieland and acting in Sauna that can really be summed up in one phrase: Comedy vs. Horror.

Yes, while Zombieland was an absolutely fantastic film and fun throughout it had this silly curtain hanging over it called comedy. I have nothing against comedy. I'm funny all the time. Some of my best friends do comedic things. Hell, I know a ton of improv comics. My point is, I love comedy. I think comedy is often times just as hard to pull off as straight drama, maybe even harder in some ways. Having a ridiculous film is always fun. having a film that can make you smile and laugh and forget about all your troubles is fantastic and deserves much praise. My problem is that comedy films, even with horror elements, are still comedies. They don't portray things realistically (albeit very few actual films today do portray life realistically). They tend to show funny things in serious scenes therefore ruining the effects of the serious issues. A comedy is a film where the main characters usually come out all right and on top of things. The main characters usually get what they want and it's all very "entertaining". I think Zombieland is one of the best comedy-horror films I've ever seen, but it isn't as good as more serious films in my mind. The acting just isn't as strong... or maybe I'd rather see good dramatic acting than comic acting. It is harder to make someone cry or scream than laugh. That's kind of a fact.

Wow, I was really getting into that. Ahem. So, Sauna, in my mind, is such a wonderful film because it is a very dramatic horror film. Psychological horror film actually. Yeah... I know, I tend to focus on psychological horror... but they're just SO good! (Okay, most of them aren't, but the ones that are good... they are THE BEST.) This film is a bit of a cross between The Lord of the Rings trilogy (specifically the part with the Dead Marshes) and 1408. They are both fantastic films in their own ways and combining them makes this film easily one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Sauna is a foreign film. It's Finnish to be precise. I didn't even know Finland had a film industry. I've never seen a Finnish film before either, but I am going to praise Finland up and down for this underrated masterpiece. The acting throughout this film is phenomenal (although I neither understand Finnish, nor Russian, so I guess it could have been really bad. It sounded good to me though.). The visuals are AMAZING. The story, set in the late sixteenth century after a war between Sweden and Russia has concluded. The tale involves two brothers traveling with three Russians to make a new map of the borders between their two countries.

Historically, I have no idea about any of it or how good it is. I'm not well-versed in my Swedish/Russian history in the sixteenth century... but it seems good to me.

As for the imagery, it doesn't have a ton of imagery in the film, but the images it does have stick in my mind. The shots of the "sauna" itself was fantastic. It really helped to lead to the creepy tone felt throughout this fantastic film. There is very little gore throughout this thoroughly horrific film, and I feel that's a good thing since I thoroughly despise excessive uses of gore by anybody who isn't Sam Raimi. That being said, I think the film is much better without a ton of gore or some villain to take the limelight. There's a real focus on atmosphere. This movie does atmosphere better than most other psychological horror movies, and most psychological horror movies are strictly atmospheric pieces!

If you've ever heard of the phrase "Nothing Is Scarier" than you'll understand what I mean when I say that this movie takes that and runs with it. It uses atmosphere to create dread, but there is very little reason or substance to the dread. It's being built up, but the payoff doesn't come until the film's ending.

And what an ending. I think the last five minutes really sold this film to me. I don't think I'll be able to shut my eyes without seeing... I pretty much doubt I'll be able to sleep without having nightmares is what I mean to say.

I would suggest this film to anybody. It's a wonderful bit of psychological horror with a heavy atmosphere and great characters. Everything seems very cohesive and very well done. In my opinion this is one of the very best films I have ever seen, and I have seen a LOT of films in my time.

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