So we finally arrive at the epic baconification of World War II. With enough Tarantino-esque chapter headings that you won’t for a second forget its place in the po-mo grindhouse market, Sisu is a thoroughly depressing effort that will only make you appreciate that mad-man Quentin’s work more. But if you actually found Inglourious Basterds offensive, prepare to have a word with the latest work from Jalmari Helander of Rare Exports and Big Game—something like an unholy cross of John Wick, a Sgt. Rock comic, and The Simpsons’ Rambo parody McBain. Even if Sisu on paper has all the makings of a fun romp, something is deeply amiss.

But to articulate what’s wrong here, it’s maybe how every TIFF features at least one Midnight Madness title that reeks of pandering to the violent genre-film audience. And with it mostly in English, a bit of a red flag for how hopeful it is to achieve “crossover” appeal, you can’t help but see the wheels turning with every well-timed bit of gore. When the genuine highlight (or at least most idiosyncratic feature) is the throat singing on the soundtrack, you know you’re in trouble.

Set in 1944, as the Nazis are in the midst of losing the war (territory mined in Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece Cross of Iron) and becoming even more ruthless, voiceover informs us that Finland and Russia have just signed an armistice against them. Yet a platoon of Nazis are nonetheless rollicking in tanks across the Finish landscape with multiple prisoners in tow. Things come into focus when they stumble across the rugged and mysterious Aatami (Jorma Comilla) mining for gold alongside his canine buddy, and they naturally can’t help but see a new target to steal from and kill in cold blood.

Of course, little do they know that Aatami is actually a legendary Finnish officer who’s racked up 300 Russian kills and earned the moniker “immortal” by enemies. So ensues a chase across the landscape with plenty of dismemberments, land-mine gags, and such. But don’t worry: unlike the first John Wick, his cute dog survives and doesn’t serve as the impetus for the 90 minutes of ass-kicking.

Bearded and veering close to old age (partly because millennials are only believable in tights and latex these days), Comilla’s silent performance is fine, but doesn’t overcome the dreary, instant-bad-mood color palette. And maybe this is a sign of yours truly getting a little older, but the combination of both extreme look-away from the screen (nails going into open wounds) and hardy-har-har cartoon violence (the number of blown-up heads) was, beyond tonal inconsistency, a major turn-off.

What in most cases makes for thrilling pulp is a genuine sense of joie-de-vivre, not suspicion of hitting the bloody beats or rather just being able to deliver on baseline action movie competence. And even if there’s possibly some criticism of Finnish nationalistic pride (as evidenced by an opening title card explaining the significance of the term “Sisu”) to be had, at least the madness of fervent ideology would be welcome in such a grim exercise.

Sisu premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Grade: C

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