Slight, Satisfying Nazi Hunting Action
Jalmari Helander, the Finnish phenom who wrote and directed Rare Exports and Big Game, is back at the helm of his chaos machine with the wildly violent WWII action film Sisu. Reteaming with actor Jorma Tomilla, who has appeared in his other features, the duo bring to life Aatami Korpi, an action hero from the WWII era who dwells in a heightened world of immortality and death-dealing that can be rivaled only by such characters as Rambo or John Matrix, but who in reality feels more like a Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers type.
Sisu, which apparently is a Finnish concept with no direct English translation, more or less indicates a strength of will or a coolness in the face of insurmountable odds. Our guy Korpi?! Yeah, he’s Sisu. I’m not entirely clear as an American viewer if sisu is supposed to have any mystical or supernatural connotations. Perhaps Finnish audiences will have a better grasp of that. But Korpi deals a whole lot of death out on a bunch of unsuspecting Nazis during the brief runtime of this film and he’ll overcome superhuman obstacles to do so.
Told in a very straightforward and stripped down fashion, Sisu unfolds in chapters with basic titles like “the gold”, or “the legend”, etc. Our hero is hunting for gold in the deep Finnish countryside after having sworn off the war and walking away from society. Unfortunately for him, the Nazis are in the death throes of their final days in the war and they’ve adopted a scorched earth policy. So when Korpi strikes gold and must reconnect with society, an ever escalating conflict to the death sparks off with Aksel Hennie’s SS officer Bruno and his battalion of ragged and desperate soldiers.
There’s not a ton of depth to what’s going on here in Sisu. This is a movie spoon feeding its audience exactly what it came to see. Korpi is creatively and brutally killing Nazis within seconds of them getting a whiff of his gold. Helander is having the most fun when he’s dialing up the gore and creativity surrounding the cat and mouse game that ensues between one former elite commando and an entire tank battalion. It’s never really much of a question of who is going to win, but the fun is in the slicing and dicing, which gives Sisu more of a slasher vibe than, say, a “John Wick Meets Nazis” vibe. This isn’t slick, clean, beautiful action. It’s gore-kills and audiences jumping out of their seats.
Sisu is one of those “just what the doctor ordered” kinds of movies that fully and completely delivers on what it promises without giving anything more. The chapter-based but threadbare plot escalates pretty exquisitely and there are many set pieces and plot zigs and zags that you aren’t likely to see coming. After seeing thousands of action and slasher films in my life, not to mention samurai films, I can honestly say that Helander and his sisu-slasher Korpi deliver some creative kills that aren’t quite like anything I’ve seen before. There’s an inventive brutality on display that feels Raimi-esque, although the aesthetic is more Raimi-meets-Leone in execution.
If I’m being totally honest I had a really rough day leading up to my screening and it was a miracle I was even able to make it. Sisu was the perfect antidote to a shitty day. It’s not going to change anyone’s life, and it’s not pushing the envelope really. But it’s delivering the blood and viscera of evil Nazi soldiers to its audience on a silver platter. There were laughs, cheers, and gasps in my theater and some of them came out of my mouth. Slight and satisfying, Sisu simply slays.
And I’m Out.
Sisu releases in theaters April 28th, 2023 from Lionsgate