It is 1595 and a 25 year war between Sweden and Russia
comes to an exhausted end. Cartographer teams from both sides trek the
remote northern regions to chart the new frontier. Two brothers, Eerik
and Knut, have an uneasy relationship arising from Eerik’s over-zealous
efforts to stamp-out the Russian Orthodox Church. The two brothers kill
a peasant after uncovering an ikon and trap his daughter in a cellar.
The party moves on around then through a large, unknown
swamp. Yet young Knut’s conscience begins to prick his sanity: he knows
he never let the girl out. Grim visions of her fate begin to appear,
leading to hallucinations… or are they?
They stumble on a strange village, where only one,
androgynous child roams free. The peasants are inexplicably clean,
raising Eerik’s suspicious. He has a lot to be suspicious about,
including the homosexual Russian officer after his brother Knut.
But the strangest thing about this unmapped village is
the perfect white rectangular building lodged in the middle of the
swamp. It sits there, unperturbed yet inviting in its passive
perfection. It reminded me of the monolith in 2001 or any number
of David Lynch curios. Go inside and who knows what’ll happen. The
tagline, “Wash your sins”, is very apt.
Finnish director Antti-Jussi Annila second feature is a
captivating blend of suspense horror and mystical pondering. Religion
meant a lot more in the 16th century, which is why the filmmakers get
away with the period setting. Questions of good and evil blend with
fear, paranoia and conscience.
The sound comes in either Dolby 2.0 or 5.1. Special
features include the trailer and a making of which could admittedly have
been more engaging. It still provides some interesting clues.
The cold, unforgiving Nordic barrenness is captured
perfectly. Once the alienation sets it, the men in have nowhere to run
or hide… well almost! Sauna is a pleasing pairing of good looks
and brains that will no doubt lead to much discussion if watched as a
group or great unease if watched alone. I reckon you go out and get it,
unless subtitles are unfamiliar to you.