Films & Schedules

  • Sauna

  • Antti-Jussi Annila

Finnish, Russian
83 minutes

Production Company:
Bronson Club
Tero Kaukomaa, Jesse Fryckman
Iiro Küttner
Production Designer:
Vladimir Bedrich Dvorak, Antti Nikkinen, Ville Vauras
Henri Blomberg
Joona Louhivuori
Panu Riikonen, Vesa Meriläinen
Panu Aaltio
Principal Cast: Ville Virtanen, Tommi Eronen, Viktor Klimenko, Sonja Petäjäjärvi

International Sales Agent:
Blind Spot Pictures

Friday September 0508:45PM VARSITY 2 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Saturday September 0612:30PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Thursday September 1109:15AM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 2 Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

I can positively guarantee that no other film in the Festival this year will simultaneously recall the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Eli Roth – let alone to such powerful and riveting effects. Antti-Jussi Annila's Sauna marries these two divergent approaches to cinematic narrative in a way not seen since, well, his previous film, Jade Warrior, which sought a middle way between Chinese historical martial arts films and Kaurismäki-inspired Finnish slacker road movies.

Like any decent transcendentalist horror film, Sauna is set at a particular, contested moment in history. It is 1595. Brutal wars have just ended in an uneasy peace between Protestant Sweden and Orthodox Russia. Finland has been trampled over and buried. The film concerns the spiritual defeats of two conquered Finnish brothers, one a hardened near-psychopathic war hero, the other a gentle scientist in an age with no use for such men. They find themselves in the swampy interior, demarcating the new border with a unit of sadistic Russians.

The film begins with a moment of affection marred by an act of cruelty. This is an act that will haunt the brothers as their travels take them into eerier territory. When they reach an undocumented town, populated by an ethnically indistinct but practically childless sect, the brothers' spiritual anxieties escalate, awakening a dark force that feeds off bloody borderlands and the moral vacuums such locales create. The centre of this force is in an otherworldly structure, a kind of proto-sauna appropriately housing a vengeful Scandinavian demon.

Annila is a master of shifting tone. The early scenes have an alienating coldness about them, as we come to know these pitiful siblings. While their spiritual prison begins to make its weight felt, the film takes on an intense claustrophobia and an almost unbearable sadness, alleviated only by the onset of extremely violent, haunting horror, featuring imagery that will occupy your nightmares for days.

This is a director who has something new and fresh to say about the formal properties of genre, and his film is a case study in the modernist project of creating and releasing existential anxiety.

Noah Cowan

Antti-Jussi Annila was born in Helsinki, Finland, and studied at the Tampere Polytechnic School of Art and Media in Tampere, Finland, where he made a series of five short films called Hard Student I V. His feature films are Jade Warrior (06) and Sauna (08).

Cadillac People's Choice Award