‘Sisu’ Is the Bloody, Nazi-Killing Movie You Need to See
The thing about Nazis is: Fuck those guys.
Finland began World War II by fighting off the Soviet forces that tried to invade the country in the “Winter War” from 1939 to 1940. They were conscripted by the Axis powers to fight alongside Hitler’s army until 1944, the year of the Moscow Armistice — that treaty not only allied Finnish troops with the Russians, it started a major campaign that sought to drive the Nazis out of the country once and for all. This was known as the “Lapland War,” for those of you playing along at home.
You don’t really need to know any of this going into Sisu, the Eurosploitation movie that pits one man against a shit-ton of Deutschland bad guys straight out of central casting. An introductory voice-over sets the scene with a CliffsNotes history lesson; a title card also explains that the title refers to a Finnish word that roughly translates to “a white-knuckle form of courage and unimaginable determination.” All you really need to know is that this Nordic nation had, by the dying days of WWII, produced some extremely hardened, battle-tested soldiers. That, and the no-brainer sentiment expressed in the very first sentence of this review. Should you want to spend 90 minutes watching Nazis get shot, stabbed, gutted, blown up, run over, and beaten with a variety of inanimate objects, in the most violent and gory manner possible, this war movie is the answer to your pulp-cinema prayers.
The Germans are still running rampant throughout Finland, even though the end of the conflict is practically in sight. None of that particularly concerns a Finnish prospector (Jorma Tommila) who’s scouring the countryside for gold — especially when his pickax hits something flinty and bright deep in the earth, and he realizes he’s stumbled across the mother lode. Gathering as many nuggets as his rucksacks can hold, the man sets out for the nearest city to deposit his findings. He’s stoic, doesn’t speak, and is almost preternaturally calm. A glimpse of the gnarly scars crisscrossing his torso and limbs, however, suggest he’s seen some shit in his day.
It’s not long before he runs into a gaggle of Nazis, led by a leather-duster-wearing commander (The Martian’s Aksel Hennie). They let the prospector pass unharmed, knowing that he’s about to run into another patrol further down the road. Let those guys tale care of him, the officer says. Sure enough, the man runs into a second group of soldiers. They figure they’ll shoot him and claim his loot for themselves. The prospector has another idea: How about he sticks a giant knife through one of their skulls, uses several troops as a human shield against machine-gun fire, then blows the entire top of the last guy’s head clean off?
This is where Sisu establishes that it’s not the least bit interested in playing nice, and is extremely interested in killing the last unimpeachable movie villains left. The mondo trasho vibe is strong with this one, and if you know writer-director Jalmari Helander’s previous work — notably the deranged 2010 Christmas horror movie Rare Exports — then you understand that he’s unafraid to go there, repeatedly. And by “there,” we mean that gloriously over-the-top, guns-blazing, guts-flying territory of grindhouse exploitation epics past. There’s a vintage Forty-Deuce ripeness that permeates off every blood-splattered set piece; it owes less to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and way more to the Italian “Macaroni Combat” epics of the 1970s that inspired Tarantino in the first place. (Although the use of a particular variation of an ITC Busorama font in Sisu’s chapter-title cards may seem awfully familiar.)
Oh, and the prospector? It turns out that he’s not just a gold digger. In the early days of the war, he too was a soldier and was considered the most feared man in his unit. Unable to control his legendary facility for death-dealing, the Finnish army just turned him loose in the woods and let him hunt first the invading Russians, then the unwelcome Germans. His Christian name is Aatami Korpi, but he’s mostly known by his nickname: The Immortal. He’s not unkillable, one Nazi is told by a female prisoner (Mimosa Willamo). “He just refuses to die.”
That’s a vast understatement, and the majority of Helander’s glorious bastard of a war epic pivots between putting Korpi through all sorts of bodily injury (he’s shot, hung, set on fire, nearly drowned, and takes a grenade to the chest) and letting this superhuman killing machine go full-blown Terminator on his enemies. All Der Führer’s tanks and all Der Führer‘s men can’t keep this ex-commander from tearing them limb from limb again. Or from throwing landmines at their heads. Or from slitting their throats, sticking his pickax in their sternum, or attaching them to a plummeting megaton bomb. Once those aforementioned female prisoners get in on the Nazi-slaughtering action as well, all bets are off.
Sisu is beyond cartoonish in terms of its ultraviolence, which becomes more of an end and less of a means before the final villain gets his righteous comeuppance. It’s also so ludicrous, and almost infectiously gleeful in its near-biblical anti-Nazi bloodlust, that you can feel yourself giving in to the anything-goes state of mind — and sticking around just to see the creative ways the movie figures out to destroy these racist degenerates next. If screen carnage isn’t your jam, you can let this good-versus-evil splatterfest pass. For those of us who’ve spent way too much time pining for white supremacists to suffer the consequences of their actions and their prejudices, however, the only question we have for Sisu is: Where were you five years ago?