After a long war between Sweden and Finland, two brothers and a few men are set out to outline the borders between the two countries. After a meeting with a woman that they leave to die the two brothers are so struck with guilt that it haunts them for the rest of their journey which ends in a small forgotten town in the middle of a swamp.
"Sauna" is about two soldiers who are brothers. A 25-year-old long war between Finland and Sweden has finally ended, and the two along with a small group of soldiers are to divide the two countries - set out the outlines. One brother is a ruthless soldier who keeps count of his number of kills, while the younger one is much calmer and has been hidden away from the war. Their long journey becomes a nightmare after they have a run-in with a farmer and his daughter - and they end up leaving the daughter in a cellar. The youngest brother is feeling guilt for what happened and starts having these horrible hallucinations, and tries to get the group to go back for her. It's not until they end up in a small village that no one seems to know existed that the guilt finds them both and starts breaking them down mentally.
This semi-surreal horror movie from Finland has been talked about plenty around these parts (Sweden, duh) ever since it first came out and I've had an interest in this, just never got around to buy it. It's clear that the people who love it, really do love it. And if someone doesn't like it I've seen them respond with such things as "It's just because you couldn't understand it". As usual. And I must say it is a hard movie to understand, but much I think is because of the director. It's just not well told. The biggest reason this movie ends up feeling surreal is because the story leaps through some things too quick for us to follow. That's not something that makes it worth calling the movie "too smart" for, if you ask me. It's not a bad movie, even though the story could've been handled better. It's not that the movie is just a dumb ol' horror movie either. Not at all. It's really interesting and I really thought it was great having the horrors of this movie be a metaphor for their guilt. In that sense, you could call it smart. But it's not because it's smart that you get confused - it's the storytelling.
It's set in the 1500's with some really creepy locations. You feel lost and that alone helps build tension in the movie. Visually striking in all its bleakness, it's easy to get swallowed by it. One look at this film will make you understand that you won't leave it with a smile on your face. No happy endings, just leaving you with questions and guilt. Yes, it's another vague ending, but most of the movie is vague so it's not a surprise. The acting is very good and it's an overall very well-made movie to be honest. It's a shame that the only issue with the film is the storytelling. A very important part of any movie it is, but luckily "Sauna" manages to be worth a watch no matter what. Seems to have made some people think higher of the movie because they were confused by it, so maybe it was a good move?
What makes the movie as good as it is isn't the japanese-ish ghosts. It's not the visuals (okay, that's part of it). It's not even the acting. It's the guilt. The focus on cleansing your soul. The sauna. Three things that ties together perfectly within the movie. The horror here isn't supernatural, it's all psychological and it doesn't need to explain it to us for us to understand that much. Even the most rotten of the two brothers feels humane when his guilt gets the best of him, and it all ends with him as the one we care about the most. It has good and interesting symbolism, and works with it great (clearly not a 100% original, but close enough). It's just a shame that you don't know how much you should read into it, because some things could just as well be mistakes because of the storytelling. This is also why I haven't given to movie too much thought after it ended. Without going too deep into it, it's a good psychological horror movie, and one you should check out if you get a chance. It has something to offer most horror movie fans.