Sisu is the long-awaited latest from Finnish director Jalmari Helander, director of Christmas horror Rare Exports and pulpy presidential adventure Big Game. Since Big Game in 2014, Helander hasn’t had a feature film and, whatever the reason, it’s great to see him back swinging with such an explosive, beautifully shot, and timely reintroduction.
Aatami (a superb Jorma Tommila) has discovered gold in Lapland whilst WW2 draws to a close. Making his way across a desolate war-scarred Finland he is accosted by a group of Nazis who try to rob him without realising he’s one of the most feared loose cannons in the Finish army. So begins a brutal odyssey across the countryside with battalions of Nazis trying to stop the seemingly immortal, and incredibly deadly, soldier-turned-miner.
In a nutshell, Sisu captures the Nazisploiation subgenre in all its gory glory. Take all the dastardly violence of Inglorious Basterds, the sadism of films like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, and whittle that legacy down to 91 unabbreviated minutes of thrills and spills. Helander proves a dab-hand at action sequences and watching Tommila tear his way through swathes of bad guys is probably one of the finest cinematic pleasures of 2023. Not simply for the pure thrill of well-paced and staged brutality, but the inherent inventiveness of Helander’s script.
For a relatively straight forward story, Sisu manages to turn every murderous beat into something fresh. Helander throws surprises at the viewer like landmines to the face, finding ways to make us wince in shock and awe at all the awful wonderful things that can be done with a human body. In terms of 2023 actions set pieces, Sisu gives every major studio action film a serious run for its money on a budget of only $6 million.
As an overall package, Sisu is further proof that Helander is one of the finest pulp auteurs working today. Just look at his CV and you’ll see an eclectic Carpenter-esque variation of bold comic book concepts. But Helander’s appeal still hasn’t quite hit the mainstream. His cult status, not to mention the quality of his latest offering, will hopefully secure him another film sooner than last time. He’s a writer/director with so much to offer and it still feels like we’re waiting for studios to properly understand his savvy talents.
Sisu is an explosive return to the screen for Helander, a big daft, gritty, action-packed, carnage-strewn, revenge trip determined to go the extra mile. What it lacks in narrative substance it more than makes up for in creativity, invention, and downright gruesome gore. Its Helander’s best film to date, so here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for the next one.
Dir. Jalmari Helander
Stars. Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo, Omni Tommila,