The word ‘sisu’ is of Finnish descent, but it can’t be literally translated into English. It’s a term that refers to the twin concepts of white-knuckled courage and unimaginable determination that manifests when all is hope is lost.
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In Sisu, it’s 1944 and World War II has all but ended. Finland is essentially a playground to the Nazis, who are enjoying their last moments in power before they’re likely rounded up and executed.
Amidst this chaos is a man named Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a veteran soldier from the Winter War who embodies the film’s eponymous concept. Having lost his family to the Russians, he now lives as a prospector in the Lapland wilderness.
However, soon after we meet Aatami, he discovers a large amount of gold. Choosing to risk his life to cash it in, he leaves the safety of his solitude for the nearby town.
But on the way, Aatami is accosted by a platoon of Nazi soldiers led by a ruthless SS officer named Bruno Helldorf (Aksel Hennie, The Martian). Once the Nazis discover that Aatami is carrying gold, they decide to hunt him down and take it for themselves.
Unfortunately for the Nazis, they are unaware that the man in their sights is the legendary one-man death squad known as Aatami The Immortal.
Sisu is a historical action film that rides the coattails of the John Wick franchise in the best of ways. It has an insanely simple premise, and Aatami only speaks all of three lines throughout its entire runtime – and they’re all in the last 60 seconds of the film right before the end credits roll.
Relying solely on bloody action sequences and the simple formula of ‘one man massacring everyone he comes across’, Sisu takes the action elements and nearly mute lead character from Willy’s Wonderland and mashes it together with the very human desire to see Nazis get torn to pieces. In doing so, the film delivers a mostly satisfying and limb severing extravaganza reminiscent of the Dead Snow films.
In the Halloween franchise, the mystery of Michael Meyers’ ability to continually come back from the dead made the masked serial killer even scarier.
But as the franchise grew and the sequels got dumber and dumber, the character was soured as various filmmakers kept trying to explain his origin or give a reason for his seemingly unstoppable bloodlust.
Sisu has the opposite problem – it doesn’t give enough of a backstory to Aatami. The man is driven by a vengeful nature and simply refuses to die. His body is covered in scars and wounds that have healed improperly, but not even a hail of bullets can keep him from rising from the grave.
Why? We’ll never know, because instead of dying, he digs the slugs out of his torso with a knife and jumps on a motorcycle, riding away to his next fight along with the audience’s hopes of ever getting any real answers.
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Written and directed by Jalmari Helander (Rare Exports), Sisu is a pure and obvious action film whose ‘story beats’ exist solely to get audiences to the next insanely gory action sequence. While it is part of the Finnish action film’s charm (Sisu is almost entirely in English, by the way), your logical brain pounds against the confines of your skull at times because of how brilliantly stupid the entire experience truly is.
The film is presented as seven chapters that span a swift 90 minutes. The chapters titles basically flesh out the film’s main story and are typically named after locations or character motivations.
Aksel Hennie is mesmerizing as Bruno Helldorf. Bruno only cares about his selfish desires and will even throw his men in harm’s way to get what he wants. He’s heartless to an inhuman extent, but he has a commanding presence that Hennie deserves all of the credit for.
The minefield segment is perhaps the highlight of the gore in the film. Men explode, Aatami’s horse is blown to smithereens while he’s riding it, and someone’s severed leg from the knee down spirals through the air for so long that you expect to see its name in the credits.
The piece de resistance comes near the end of Atami’s last stand when, thanks to the use of a land mine and a Nazi skull, he delivers the juiciest explosion of the entire film.
Sisu is the type of film you want to endorse while it’s in theaters. Made for about $6.6 million, it’s super low budget, and thanks to audience support has already made back its budget at the box office.
For reference, the cheapest John Wick film, the original from 2014, was made for $20-$30 million. If an action film like Sisu can be just as bloody as John Wick’s first outing and deliver action sequences just as memorable for four to five times less, then it absolutely deserves to be successful, even with its flaws.
Sisu is an hour and a half slaughter fest loaded with despicable characters that you will actually enjoy seeing being ripped to pieces.
It is a film that endorses its simplicity a bit too heavily, but is an otherwise immensely entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment that will satisfy action junkies.
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- The minefield sequence is an all-timer
- Aksel Hennie's performance.
- Entertaining from begining to end.
- The writing - or lack thereof - is exploited in an illogical way
- A simple contencept that is just as imbecilic as it is brilliant