Sisu – [Film Review]

Released: July 27th, 2023 (Australia)

Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan, Mimosa Willamo & Onni Tommila

No matter what you think of the numerous big action movies released this year, we’ve been somewhat spoilt for choice with such productions. John Wick Chapter 4 arrived early and rocked everyone’s shit, easily the best of those sequels, if not the series’ highest point. Extraction 2 hit Netflix not too long ago and was seriously good, proving the first one wasn’t a one-off hit but that this could become a monstrous franchise. Fast X is probably the wildest, best-worst movie of 2023 but you can’t deny its sheer entertainment value. Even more recently, we got Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, an expertly produced if shallow and mindless blast. And despite its many obvious flaws, the new Indiana Jones was still a fun nostalgic ride, albeit one that should’ve been made 10-plus years ago.

Stepping up to the plate with a reserved grimace, a wicked pace and a pair of blood-covered knuckles comes Sisu, a Finnish historical action B-movie from writer and director, Jalmari Helander. (Last big thing he did that some readers may have heard about was Big Game from 2014, starring Sam Jackson.) The first time I heard about the hyper-violent, Nazi-massacre of a film that is Sisu, was on break at my job when some work makes were watching the first trailer. Barely halfway through said trailer, I was already sold!

“Sisu” is a Finnish concept, a term that’s roughly translated into meaning constant strength and perseverance in the face of adversity. Hearing that description, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Keanu Reeves‘ most popular character next to Neo. Much like the aforementioned Mr Wick, our (mostly) silent protagonist here isn’t invincible – he takes his licks at numerous points – yet he too is just so damn efficient in the persistence of his goals and refuses to die. Funnily enough, Lionsgate distributed Sisu in North America (Sony internationally) and also distributed the John Wick films. The similarities between both are pretty staggering when you count them up, yet it never feels like a rip job. Although, describing this as “John Wick but in World War II against Nazis instead of gangsters” isn’t too far off the money, honestly.

Broken up into multiple chapters, this gritty yet gorgeous film is set in 1944 during the Lapland War. That’s Finland vs. Nazi Germany after the former signed the Moscow Treaty with the USSR, as the latter began a scorched earth campaign of retreat, for those unaware of 20th-century history. Loosely inspired by the apparent real-life Finnish sniper, Simo Häyhä, who fought against the Reds between 1939-1940 in the Winter War, this focuses on protagonist Aatami Korpi, cooly portrayed by Jorma Tommila. A man who says almost nothing but gives you a lot with his facial acting and body language, and who could probably scare the fuzzy testicles off a bear with a single stare. (To any big studios reading: that idea is my intellectual property, keep your grubby mitts off of old mate Aatami fighting a Nazi grisly.)

While we never need much justification for on-screen Nazi killing, Sisu utilises a simple premise. Alongside his trusty dog and horse, our retired Finnish commando lives as a lone gold prospector, minding his own business amidst the lovely countryside. Unphased by the horrors of WWII – early on, bombers fly over him and he doesn’t even look up or seem to notice their presence – he one day has the misfortune of crossing paths with a Nazi death squad. In fact, that’s the most accurate way to portray this film: a Nazi squad has death reigned down upon them by this unrelenting prospector in order to keep his cherished gold, which the Nazi troops wish to use to buy their way out to Norway. Not to be confused with this year’s Tarantino-esque Blood and Gold, which also features sought-after gold and many dead Nazis, directed by the same dude who brought us Blood Red Sky, Sisu is one of the better entries onto the action field in 2023.

Why? Well, Sisu is a timely reminder that with a modest budget and a tight premise, some solid action and crazy kills, and a talented crew who know what they’re doing, you can create something that competes on the world stage. Are you one of those types who bemoan sequels? Then shut the hell up and go see Sisu; a very cool movie that shows it’s more than fine to have some deeper themes but still go balls deep into the pure nonsense of gory action films such as this. (Especially in the final third, goddamn.) This likely won’t be the best film you witness in 2023, maybe not even the best action one either, but I’m sure you’ll be engaged fiercely throughout as the maimed S.S. bodies pile up amongst eye-watering vistas.

Speaking of, there are more than a few kills that’ll make you wanna yell “Oh fuck yeah!” Two early on, with a knife and a landmine respectively, stick out in my brain, and one standout kill seen later on is done via mere gravity. There are even one or two kills that might make you squeamish. In all cases, it’s glorious! (The film carries a violent sense of humour, too.) After all, fucking up Nazis’ shit is an international past-time across video games, comics and movies. Sisu is but the latest Nazi-murdering addition to that long list, it won’t be the last, and it doesn’t skimp on the brutality. To the point that you almost feel sorry for these Nazis. Well, almost. They are Nazi scum, after all!

In my own hazel eyes, The Revenant has had a noticeable influence on recent films. 2022’s Prey – by far the best Predator film since the original Arnold Schwarzenegger instalment – and now Sisu both display striking beauty in their landscape shots. In just the stillness of these stunning places. In the picturesque, mostly untouched environments that the characters move through, and how the opening chapter of Sisu is actually rather quiet; the serene calm before the extremely bloody storm. Cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos just went crazy with this movie, seriously placing us all there right amongst the beautiful open ranges of Lapland itself, where they filmed on location. B-movies like this rarely make such incredible use of their locations, and half of my score is simply down to how good this thing looks. The other half? The gruesome action, of course, as if you’d even have to ask!

Critically speaking, this is a film that leaves you wanting more, just a smidge, in the worst way, as the 90-minute runtime is cruelly short. As I feel a little bit more could’ve been squeezed out. A brief yet unnecessary English narration in the opening seconds also sticks out. On top of that, some rough-looking green screen and/or CG shot composition in one or two instances involving vehicles did pull me out of the experience a bit as well. To be clear, there’s nothing majorly wrong with Sisu, just a few tiny gripes. Considering some of the gutter drek we’ve gotten this year like The Flash, Super Mario Bros., Renfield, Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Shazam: Fury Of The Gods, I’ll happily take a few nitpicks any day of the week, month or year.

As for the future of Sisu, I do feel there’s some real potential for either a sequel or even a prequel. (My money would be on the latter.) Either way, if it’s more carnage exacted at the hands of this practically unfuckwithable lone gold miner, then I’m down. Even the director has hinted at such if the demand for more is there. Given its reasonable budget, decent box office earnings for a film of its size and calibre, and hopefully some good word of mouth from the trailers and recent Australian release, I won’t rule out another one. However, what if this is all we get? Well, you still won’t hear any complaints from me after a film this violent and entertaining.

Rating: 3.5/5

Written by Alex Sievers.

Sisu is in cinemas across Australia from July 27th via Sony Pictures.

Play SISU SWEEPER on the official website!