Review: ‘Sisu’ (2023), starring Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo and Onni Tommila

May 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jorma Tommila in “Sisu” (Photo by Antti Rastivo/Lionsgate)

“Sisu” (2023)

Directed by Jalmari Helander

Finnish, German and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1944 in Finland, the action film “Sisu” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class during World War II.

Culture Clash: A Finnish former military commander, who has become a gold miner and a rogue vigilante, fights Nazi soldiers during World War II. 

Culture Audience: “Sisu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in war movies with “hero vigilantes” and exaggerated action that’s meant to be partially amusing.

Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan and Onni Tommila in “Sisu” (Photo by Antti Rastivo/Lionsgate)

“Sisu” knows what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else: an adrenaline-packed, violent action film served up with plenty of self-aware campiness. Jorma Tommila’s portrayal of Aatami Korpi, the hero who fights Nazis, is a crowd-pleasing blitz. “Sisu” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Sisu” (which takes place in 1944 in Finland) has a very simple plot: a loner vigilante/gold miner named Aatami Korpi (played by Jorma Tommila) gets deadly revenge on Nazis who want to steal his gold. The Nazis underestimate Aatami because he’s much older than their usual opponents. Atami is a lot tougher and more ruthless than he looks.

It’s explained in the very beginning of the movie that the word “sisu” doesn’t have a specific meaning in Finnish, but it roughly translates to a white-knuckled form of courage in desperate moments. There are many of those moments in “Sisu,” which has a lot of over-the-top violence showing one man pitted against an army of several people. Because he’s outnumbered, Aatami has to figure out ways to outsmart his enemies.

At one point in the movie, it’s revealed that Aatami used to be a commander in the Finnish Army, but he went rogue after Nazis killed his entire family during the war. After the massacre of his family, Aatmi became a vengeful person whom no one could control. Even with Aatami having military training, there are are still deliberately cartoonish depictions of how Aatami is able to defeat many of the soldiers he comes up against.

Aatami’s violent exploits have given him a somewhat mystical legendary reputation, because he has been able to avoid death in situations that could easily kill most people. Some people who know about Aatami say that Aatami might be immortal. Whether or not his immortality is true, Aatami still needs to sustain himself with money and food.

The beginning of “Sisu” shows Aatami searching for gold in a remote area. Aatami’s only companions are his Bedlington Terrier and his horse. Aatami finds a huge slab of gold and can’t believe his luck. He takes his ice pick and chops the gold into large chunks. And he plans to bring the gold to the nearest financial bank, which is 563 miles away.

While he’s making the long trek to the bank, Aatami is stopped and harassed by Nazi soldiers, who soon find out how much gold Aatami has and plan to steal it from him. Aatami makes it clear that he’s not going to let the Nazis do what they want without a gifht from him. The rest of the movie is a fierce battle of wits and brutality between Aatami and the Nazis.

There isn’t much dialogue in “Sisu,” but when there is, it is delivered with a winking tone of loud and violent action movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. Most of the Nazi villains are generic, but the standouts are the troop leader Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (played by Aksel Hennie); his main sidekick Wolf (played by Jack Doolan), who loyally follows commands; and a soldier named Schütze (played by Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommilla’s real-life son), who easily gets into precarious situations.

The Nazis have captured five women as prisoners of war. As already shown in the trailer for “Sisu,” these women end up escaping and become allies to Aatami. The most defiant woman in the group is Aino (played by Mimosa Willamo), who does most of the talking.

The trailer for “Sisu” reveals a lot of the movie’s most memorable action scenes, lines of dialogue and plot developments. What you see in the trailer is really what you get in the movie. If you’re intrigued by what’s in the “Sisu” trailer, and you’re in the mood for a semi-comedic World War II action movie that’s pure escapism and not meant to be realistic, then “Sisu” delivers exactly what you might expect.

Lionsgate and Stage 6 Films released “Sisu” in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 16, 2023. “Sisu” was released in Finland on January 27, 2023.

Review: ‘Free Skate,’ starring Veera W. Vilo, Leena Uotila, Karoliina Blackburn, Jevgeni Haukka, Saara Elina, Miikka J. Anttila and Sirke Lääkkölä

March 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Veera W. Vilo in “Free Skate” (Photo courtesy of Indiecan Entertainment)

“Free Skate”

Directed by Roope Olenius

Finnish, English and Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Finland and in Russia, the dramatic film “Free Skate” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A competitive figure skater, who has immigrated from Russia to Finland, has secrets and personal problems that affect all aspects of her life. 

Culture Audience: “Free Skate” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about ice skating, as well as the pressures and exploitation that athletes experience when they are expected to win at all costs.

Karoliina Blackburn and Miikka J. Anttila in “Free Skate” (Photo courtesy of Indiecan Entertainment)

“Free Skate” starts off slowly, but the movie’s story unfolds in layers, so the last half of the movie is better than the first half. It’s a drama about the dark side of competitive figure skating, with notable acting and screenwriting from Veera W. Vilo. The movie is based partially on Vilo’s own experiences as a professional gymnast and the traumas that she’s heard that other female athletes have experienced. “Free Skate” shows the pitfalls and sexism of sports where women and girls are judged as much by how “attractive” their physical appearance is as they are judged for their athletic skills.

Directed by Roope Olenius, “Free Skate” begins with a scene of a skater (played by Vilo) in her 20s who is found unconscious, bloodied and bruised by a truck driver (played by Neea Viitamäki) on the side of a snowy road somewhere in Finland. All of the characters in “Free Skate” do not have names. By keeping these characters nameless, it might be the “Free Skate” filmmakers’ way of saying that these characters in “Free Skate” could represent anyone who is connected directly or indirectly to competitive figure skating.

Authorities find out that the protagonist skater has a maternal grandmother (played by Leena Uotila), who lives not too far away. The protagonist skater is then sent to live with her compassionate and loving grandmother, who has not seen her granddaughter since the granddaughter was a child. The protagonist skater, who is originally from Russia, won’t say why she was assaulted. She is very quiet and introverted. The movie also never shows how she immigrated from Russia to Finland, but it’s eventually revealed how she ended up unconscious at the side of the road.

“Free Skate” alternates between showing the protagonist skater’s current life in Finland and flashbacks to her past life in Russia. Viewers find out that the protagonist skater’s deceased mother (played by Viivi Pumpanen, in flashbacks) was also a competitive figure skater. The movie never mentions how this mother died. One of the flashbacks shows the mother giving a medallion necklace to the protagonist skater, when the skater was about 5 or 6 years old (played by Aada Puuska) and learning to skate. This necklace is the protagonist skater’s most prized possession, and she thinks of it as her good luck charm.

Flashbacks also show why the protagonist skater wanted to leave Russia. Her greedy father (played by Jevgeni Haukka) was one of the people who abused and exploited her. The details of her abuse and exploitation are revealed in several flashbacks, with glimpses shown in the movie trailer for “Free Skate.” In Russia, she also had verbally abusive coaches who would constantly berate her about her weight and her performances.

The protagonist skater’s Russian head coach (played by Sirke Lääkkölä) is a loudmouth bully who calls the protagonist skater a “fat cow,” just because the skater has about an inch of body fat in her abdomen area. The skater’s other Russian coach (played by Regina Launivuo) is not as aggressive as the head coach, but she enables a lot of the abuse. It should come as no surprise that the protagonist skater has bulimia.

The movie’s flashbacks show that in Russia, it’s not unusual for female skaters to be physically assaulted by coaches and people who work for their sponsors while the skaters are practicing. The protagonist skater experiences one such assault when a three men, led by a “fixer” (played by Slava Dugin), show up at the skating rink during one of her practice sessions. She is kicked, attacked, and called a “useless bitch” because they say that she owes money for skating expenses.

In Finland, the protagonist skater is taken to a hospital after being found unconscious on the road. When she is discharged from the hospital, she recovers in her grandmother’s home. She wants to continue to skate, so her grandmother gives her the details to apply to the best skating program in Finland. The protagonist skater has some immigration visa issues that are eventually sorted out when she enters the skating program and gets a Finnish social security number.

The protagonist skater does not have an abusive coaching team in Finland, but she is plagued with self-doubt and other self-esteem issues related to the abuse she suffered in Russia. Her coaching team is disciplined and empathetic to any physical pain that the protagonist skater might have from injuries, but they don’t really want to deal with the emotional pain that she and the other skaters might have. No one suggests psychiatric therapy or other counseling for the protagonist skater.

The people on her Finnish coaching team includes a head coach (played by Karoliina Blackburn), a choreographer (played by Miikka J. Anttila) and a ballet teacher (played by Saara Elina), who is the closest to the age of the protagonist skater. The head coach has a “tough but tender” approach to leading. She doesn’t like to see people to show self-pity. The choreographer is flamboyant, has meditation sessions, and says things such as: “The free skate is not about the theme. [It’s about] the feeling and the expression.”

The ballet teacher is one person on the team who shows an interest in getting to know the protagonist skater outside of practice sessions. One day, after a teaching session, the ballet teacher invites the protagonist skater back to her home. The teacher, who is also a part-time ballet dancer, says that as tough as the figure skating world is on women and girls, the world of ballet is even “crazier.”

The ballet teacher also confides in the skater that she and her husband are trying to have their first child together. The skater mentions that she hasn’t had her menstrual period in a while. For women and girls with eating disorders, a common side effect is interruption of menstrual periods. The ballet teacher senses right away that this is why the skater isn’t menstruating, and she urges the skater to get medical help.

“Free Skate” has a compelling story, but large chunks of the film consists of scenes showing monotonous routines of training and exercises, especially in the first half of the movie. The psychological journey of the protagonist skater is shown in nuanced ways through Vilo’s admirable performance. The protagonist skater arrives at her grandmother’s home shellshocked from the trauma of her attack. She then gains a little bit more confidence during her recovery, and after she finds out that her Finnish coaches are kind, compared to the coaches she had in Russia.

But the protagonist skater is still haunted by her past. A very effective scene in the movie shows the choreographer asking his trainees during a meditation session to think about the feelings that they had during their best competition experience. This request leads the protagonist skater to have a fantasy that exposes her deepest fear of being in a figure skating competition, when a moment of triumph turns into a moment of tremendous humiliation.

Outside of this fantasy, the protagonist skater improves her skills and ends up doing so well in a competition, a TV reporter (played by Beata Harju) wants to interview her. This interview triggers a lot of memories for the protagonist skater. And the interview is an important turning point in her life.

“Free Skate” has some skating scenes that are filmed very well, but don’t expect this movie to have a lot of skating competition scenes. It’s more of a story about the skater protagonist being in a desperate war with herself, when it comes to how she wants to deal with her past. There’s some melodrama crammed in the last 10 minutes of the film, with an ending that looks somewhat rushed. However, “Free Skate” does an overall effective job of giving an up-close and personal look at how the seemingly glamorous world of figure skating can hide a lot of very ugly abuse and damaging exploitation.

Indiecan Entertainment released “Free Skate” in select U.S. cinemas on January 27, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on February 28, 2023.

Review: ‘Hatching,’ starring Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Oiva Ollila and Reino Nordin

May 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Siiri Solalinna in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)


Directed by Hanna Bergholm

Finnish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of Finland, the horror flick “Hatching” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old girl brings home and secretly hides a mysterious bird’s egg, which grows, hatches, and lets loose a terrifying and deadly creature. 

Culture Audience: “Hatching” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching suspenseful horror movies that use gory images as symbols of repressed feelings that affect relationships.

Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen and Oiva Ollila in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Hatching” is a thoroughly absorbing horror movie that uses the hatching of a mysterious egg as a representation of childhood angst and inner demons. In its uniquely gruesome way, “Hatching” offers astute observations of adolescent rebellion in a dysfunctional home. It’s a very impressive feature-film debut from director Hanna Bergholm. “Hatching,” which was written by Ilja Rautsi, had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Most of what happens in “Hatching” (which takes place in unnamed parts of in Finland but was filmed in Latvia) is spoiler information that would give away too many surprises in the movie. However, it’s enough to say that “Hatching” doesn’t waste time in showing that something sinister is about to happen in the home of 12-year-old Finnish girl Tinja (played by Siiri Solalinna), who lives with her parents and her younger brother. It’s a family that, on the surface, appears to be happy, loving and “perfect.” But not everything is what it first appears to be in “Hatching.”

“Hatching” opens with a scene that shows a familiar activity in this household: Tinja’s status-conscious mother (played by Sophia Heikkilä), who does not have a name in the movie, is making another video for her social media blog called “Lovely Everyday Life.” It’s a stereotypical “mommy blog,” where a mother tries to project that she has a picture-perfect life with her husband and children. Even when she’s at home, Tinja’s mother dresses as if she’s about to do a photo shoot for an article about how glamorous mothers are supposed to look.

Tinja’s mother has gathered her unnamed husband (played by Jani Volanen), Tinja and Tinja’s younger brother Matias (played by Oiva Ollila), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, into the house’s living room to film another video showing how “happy” they all are in this family. It’s never stated what the source of the family’s income is, but they have a well-kept, middle-class home. The names of Tinja’s mother and Tinja’s father seem to be deliberately unmentioned, as a way to show they could be like any other parents.

Viewers will immediately notice that Tinja and her mother physically resemble each other (they’re both pretty with long, blonde hair), while Tinja’s father and Matias have a similar physical appearance of wearing glasses and looking a little nerdy. However, the parents’ personalities are not similar to their look-alike children. Unlike her extroverted and talkative mother, Tinja is shy and introverted. Matias is outspoken and inquisitive, unlike his father, who is passive and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. Different scenes in the movie show that Tinja’s mother is much more attentive to Tinja than to Matias.

The family’s video session is suddenly interrupted by a thumping sound on a nearby window. Tinja goes to the window to find out the cause of the noise. When Tinja opens the window, a large black bird suddenly flies into the house and starts frantically flapping everywhere in the room, causing several glass items to shatter. The family members try to capture the bird, but it makes the chaos worse, because in chasing after the bird, the family members cause other items in the room to break too. The biggest item that breaks is a glass chandelier, which is destroyed when the bird flies into it, and the hanging chandelier crashes to the ground.

Eventually, the bird is captured. In front of her family members, Tinja’s mother holds the bird in a blanket and snaps its neck to kill it. She kills the bird with no hesitation and with a hint of sadistic pleasure, as if she’s smugly happy to get revenge on this animal that caused damage to her picture-perfect home. Tinja then puts the bird in a trash bin in the family yard. As she walks away, Tinja does not see the bird twitch, as if it’s still alive. And you know what that means in a horror movie.

Not long after this incident, Tinja is out walking in the nearby woods at night because she heard strange noises coming from the woods. She sees a large black bird on the ground. This bird is severely wounded for unknown reasons and is barely alive. To put the bird out of its misery, Tinja kills it with a rock.

And not far from the bird, Tinja finds a small egg, which she takes home and hides underneath her bed pillow. The egg quickly grows into the size of a very large watermelon. Observant viewers will notice that the egg gets bigger every time that Tinja experiences something that makes her very anxious.

Tinja is a gymnast who is being pressured by her mother to win important competitions. Tinja’s mother often watches Tinja during Tinja’s gym practices. When she is practicing gymnastics moves, Tinja generally does well, but she has a tendency to falter when she gets very nervous. And her mother makes her nervous. Tinja’s female gymnastics coach (played by Saija Lentonen) is tough but not abusive. Tinja’s closest friend in her gymnastics class is Reetta (played by Ida Määttänen), who is friendly and outgoing.

Tinja’s mother is the type of parent who will demand that her child keep practicing until everything is perfect. One day, after all the other gymnastics students have left because the practice session is over, Tinja’s mother insists that Tinja can’t leave until she perfects the gym move that Tinja had been practicing. The coach tells Tinja’s mother that it won’t be necessary, since the practice session has ended for the day, but Tinja’s mother persists until Tinja does what is expected of her.

On another occasion, Tinja’s ultra-competitive mother puts on a fake smile when she asks Reetta if she plans to enter the qualifying round of an upcoming competition. When Reetta says yes, Tinja’s mother then makes a point of telling Reetta in front of Tinja that Reetta will have to work extra-hard to defeat Tinja. It puts Tinja in an awkward position of reminding Tinja that she will be competing against Reetta, who is her closest friend. Reetta is not as intense about the competition as Tinja’s mother wants Tinja to be, but since this is a horror movie, you just know that Reetta is not going to go unscathed in this story.

As much as Tinja’s mother is obsessed with projecting the image of “perfection,” she is far from perfect. Tinja finds out one day when she comes home from gym practice alone. A repairman named Tero (played by Reino Nordin) is in the living room with Tinja’s mother because he is replacing the broken chandelier. Tero is younger and better-looking than Tinja’s father.

At first, Tero and Tinja’s mother don’t notice that Tinja has seen them in the room. Tinja is shocked when she sees her mother slowly rubbing Tero’s leg. And then Tinja’s mother and Tero kiss like lovers, but they quickly stop kissing when they see that Tinja has witnessed this act of infidelity. A little later, Tinja’s mother goes into Tinja’s room to explain what Tinja saw.

“Sometimes, adults have these special friends,” Tinja’s mother says. Tinja asks, “What about Dad?” Her mother replies, “Dad is Dad. You know what he’s like. How about we keep this between us?” Tinja’s mother then says that she’s going away for a few days, implying that it’s probably going to be a tryst with Tero.

Tinja tries to pretend that she’s okay with finding out about her mother’s infidelity, but deep down, it really bothers her. And this burden is made worse because her mother expects her to keep it a secret. However, there’s a point in the movie where Tinja’s father lets it be known to Tinja that he knows that his wife is having an affair with Tero, but Tinja’s father prefers to keep quiet about it because he loves his wife and wants to stay married to her.

Around the time that Tinja finds out about her mother’s extramarital affair, the egg gets larger and eventually hatches. And what comes out of the egg ends up wreaking havoc on people inside and outside the home. It’s enough to say that Tinja ends up naming the creature Alli.

“Hatching” is one of those movies that could have turned out looking tacky and amateurish if it had the wrong cast members and the wrong director. That’s because some parts of the screenplay needed better explanations. For example, the scene where Tinja discovers the egg looks too random and not that believable. What 12-year-old kid is going to walk alone in the woods, in the dead of night, just because of hearing some bird squawking?

There’s another part of the story where Reetta is walking alone at night in an isolated area. That scene also looks a little too fake and contrived. However, those are minor flaws when most of the movie is filmed in a way that makes it believable that Tinja has grown both fond of and afraid of this creature that hatched from the egg.

“Hatching” also makes a point of showing that although it would be easy to assume that this creature is the movie’s villain, Tinja’s self-absorbed mother also does a lot of damage too. In addition to pressuring Tinja to be perfect, Tinja’s mother has inappropriate and hurtful conversations with Tinja about Tero.

At one point, Tinja’s mother tells Tinja: “I think I’m in love. Tero is the best thing that ever happened to me. This is the first time in my life I feel like I really love someone. I have to see where it takes me.” How do you think that would make any child feel to hear a parent say that about someone else?

As good as the cast members are in their roles, this movie really stands out because of Solalinna and her stunning feature-film debut in “Hatching.” As Tinja, she portrays a wide range of emotions with authenticity, along with showing the angst of a child who has to present different sides of herself to the world, in order to keep certain secrets. More than a typical horror movie, “Hatching” shows how destructive this secrecy can be.

Bergholm brings the right amount of pacing to the movie, although at times there’s some unnecessary repetition over how close the creature comes to being discovered in Tinja’s room. The movie’s visual effects are not award-worthy, but they get the job done well in fulfilling a certain purpose. With “Hatching,” the filmmakers and cast members seem to understand that the best horror movies aren’t always about what’s seen on screen but how what happens in the story makes viewers feel. “Hatching” shows in alarming details how the pressure on girls to be “perfect” can be its own kind of horror story.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Hatching” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 29, 2022.

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