2017 | DIRECTOR. TEEMU NIKKI | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Given the macabre images suggested by the film’s title, it shouldn’t be surprising that its protagonist, Veijo (Matti Onnismaa), uses his free time questionably: euthanising pets for a lower price than the local vet. In a different film it would be easy to cast the character as a villain based solely on this activity, yet Nikki and Onnismaa instead adopt a more complex approach that’s arguably the main reason EUTHANIZER work as well as it does. For instance, adding details like an abusive childhood hardly excuses Veijo’s actions but explains how his bleak worldview developed; as unlikely as it sounds, this becomes a source of absurd humour thanks to Onnismaa’s deadpan line readings throughout some truly bizarre dialogue. While the revelatory impression he leaves here may admittedly be due to my lack of familiarity with Finnish film and television, I felt that Onnismaa was a perfect choice for a difficult role. The supporting cast is minimal but features similarly brilliant performances, from Jari Virman’s ability to make a white supremacist character unexpectedly hilarious, to Hannamaija Nikander’s evocation of the classic femme fatale. There are few other roles with more than a handful of lines, which at times makes the film and its unnamed setting feel unfortunately sparse, although this is surely a consequence of budget constraints.
Meanwhile, the plot is as strange as you’d expect but manages to connect its threads and characters elegantly. I loved that Nikki’s script avoided wasting time with exposition even during the opening sequence, instead dispersing information more subtly across multiple scenes. As I mentioned above, neo-noir fans will appreciate the palpable sense of intrigue this creates; given how little resemblance EUTHANIZER bears to a traditional mystery, the consistency and restraint here is even more impressive. I felt that the absurdity inherent within the film’s premise could’ve been expressed more overtly than the moments of black comedy from Onnismaa and Virman’s performances, but this is ultimately a small concern due to how clearly realised the tone is overall. Simultaneously, Nikki weaves
moral debates and philosophy throughout without verging into didacticism or becoming dull, particularly in the subplot involving Veijo’s terminally ill father. Perhaps most importantly, these themes feel clear and understandable even if the audience doesn’t pick up on every element of an idea (I’m sure I didn’t with only one viewing).
EUTHANIZER should be considered an achievement not only for Teemu Nikki and Matti Onnismaa, but Finnish indie cinema as a whole. A keen awareness of scope allows the film to overcome its constraints with ease, focusing on its tightknit group of characters to allow the themes and tone to shine. Although I can’t imagine that English-speaking audiences will wholeheartedly embrace this film, I hope that it receives the recognition it deserves in its homeland; indeed, I believe it should’ve been the country’s submission for the most recent Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.