A Film a Week - Euthanizer / Armomurhaaja

Apparently, rural Finland is a place where a person can meet a variety of colourful characters, like a car mechanic who bears the title “of thousand vaginas”, a bunch of comically useless neo-Nazi poseurs who call themselves “The Soldiers of Finland”, but instead of fighting the non-existent immigrants, they are more interested in designing logos and stealing car tyres, a hospice nurse with the taste for erotic asphyxiation or a motorbike repair-man who moonlights as a euthanizer for the folks poor enough to go to greedy veterinarians at the clinic. The latter is the titular character of an offbeat drama-thriller directed by Teemu Nikki, self-taught filmmaker with a number of shorts, music videos, commercials, a hit series and two feature-length films behind him. It is already quite a success that there were some brave or crazy people in Finnish film institutions to make Euthanizer an Oscar candidate. Chances are slim, but, hey, who would think that Lordi could win the Eurosong contest?

Euthanizer’s “Christian name” is Veijo Haukka and he is a bit of a jerk, a 60-ish pipe-smoking loner who will give his customers a lecture about how they are the cruel ones for actually keeping animals as pets without knowing enough about their natural needs. He is played to perfection by the legendary Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa. Veijo’s ethics might seem unorthodox, yet firm: smaller animals like cats would get a gas chamber made out of an old car, dog will get shot, even the roadkill will get a proper burial and not a single healthy animal would die of his hand.

He is less merciful with people not just because of his seemingly heartless lectures, but his general attitude towards people. He will not hesitate to give hard time to the veterinarian he finds greedy and unethical, and even to his dying father (Heikki Nousiainen), a former alcoholic now in hospice. Like some kind of a folksy philosopher, Veijo sees that everybody, his father included, should receive just the right amount of pain before they die. It might seem that he is given a chance of happiness when he meets his father’s nurse Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander) who takes an instant interest in him, but his principal character flaw and a misunderstanding of sorts will get him in trouble with an emasculated member of a nazi gang named Petri (Jari Virman) and his thug buddies…

A piece of trivial information says that Nikki has finished the principal photography of the film before even looking for funding, but it can be explained with the fact that most of his cast and crew were his collaborators on previous project, including the actors and co-producer Jani Pösö who also served as the co-writer on his two previous features Simo Times Three (2012) and Lovemilla (2015). Nikki was his own editor and together with the cinematographer Sari Aaltonen keen on handheld camerawork, he also served as the set and costume designer. The whole budget was around 300.000 € and the film has a certain B-movie appeal to it.

Speaking of that, it is worth noting that the whole B-movie thing is not a piece of hipster irony (even though there is more than enough irony, sarcasm and pitch-black humour delivered with a deadpan seriousness in the film’s text, which is kinda typical for the Finnish way of life), but an earnest effort in the likes of Monte Hellman’s films where animals, cars and vistas also have a certain role in social landscape and the “smart-ass-ery” of the protagonist can be read as a tribute to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry which Nikki quotes as a big influence.

On the other hand, Euthanizer does not just play cool like B-movies usually do, it is cool because, of all things, its emotional core and strong sense of humaneness portrayed through the unapologetic character of Veijo (who is the only one fully developed). It might take time for him to get under our skin, but once he is there, we could follow him to the end of the world. His larger than life personality (due to Onnismaa masterful acting), together with the title, is the reason for the film to work also as an out of the box origins story to a superhero series, which, having Rendel in mind, might be a trend in Finnish genre cinema. We might just need a slightly different ending, maybe one more scene, one more shot, mid-credits or a regular one.

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