Sunday, January 06, 2019

PSIFF ’19: Euthanizer

Anyone who so overwhelmingly prefers the company of animals over humans must have issues, as Veijo Haukka most certainly does. On the other hand, anyone who can be as cruel to furry creatures as Petri Kettu is definitely a sociopathic creep (for what its worth, he’s not so great to humanity either). They were probably made for each other, in a perverse way. Regardless, the two extreme Finns are on a collision course in Teemu Nikki’s Euthanizer (trailer here), Finland’s official foreign language Academy Award submission, which screens during this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Haukka runs an unlicensed pet euthanasia business out of his sleepy provincial auto repair garage. Yes, he charges cut-rate prices, but his customers usually have to endure a series of humiliations and maybe even beatings, for the dubious treatment of their pets. Kettu came to Haukka to have his perfectly healthy family dog Mussa put-down, because he is a selfish jerk. Haukka took his money, but he also kept his dog, alive and healthier than ever.

Having bragged to his white supremist friends in the “Sons of Finland” how he supposedly killed the canine with his bare hands, Kettu loses serious hate group cred when Mussa is seen in town with Haukka. Thus, begins a great Finnish feud of anti-social extremists. Meanwhile, Haukka starts seeing Lotta, the nurse tending his hospitalized father. She has her quirks too, which are rather ironic, given Haukka’s euthanasia practices. This is a place for film criticism for the whole family, so let’s just say it rhymes with dehydration.

So, the Finnish film establishment woke up one fine day and decided a film about a euthanizing animal rights nut taking on a Neo-Nazi low life was the film they wanted to represent their country as their submission to the Oscars. Shockingly, it did not make the shortlist. However, it should be conceded Euthanizer is a much more serious film than any capsule description can ever convey. Think of it as a weird hybrid of Aki Kaurismäki and Quentin Tarantino.

Lead actor Matti Onnismaa makes Haukka one seriously bad cat. Frankly, Jari Virman’s twitchy, weaselly Kettu just doesn’t seem like a fair match for him. In contrast, Hannamaija Nikander develops some appropriately odd chemistry with Onnismaa, as Lotta.

Based on what is on the screen, it is a safe bet whenever Nikki had a judgement call to make, he opted to make things grubbier. He definitely shows us the dark side of quirkiness. Yet, some people don’t seem to get it. Haukka is not a role model. He is twisted and damaged. Kettu is even worse. What viewers should be getting out of Euthanizer is the wisdom of measured positions and tolerance, rather than keying cars, forcing people into cages, and engaging in violent vendettas. Recommended for cult movie fans in the mood for something offbeat but mean to the bone, Euthanizer screens tomorrow (1/7) and Wednesday (1/9), as part of the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival (and it is already available on iTunes).