Set during the Finnish-Russian war of the 16th century, brothers Knut (Tommi Eronen) and Eerik (Ville Virtanen) are defeated Finnish soldiers, tasked with the charting and mapping of border territories, who happen across a sinister and mysterious village in the middle of a supposedly barren swampland. Discovering an old sauna on the outskirts, they attempt to wash away their past sins, including a terrible atrocity committed against an innocent young girl.
The visuals in Evil Rising (aka Sauna) are drab and grainy, a stylistic decision which promotes an unglamorous tone to the characters and their actions. Neither the leads nor their companions are presented as particularly sympathetic, with a real emphasis on their dark sides. Seemingly shot mostly in the early dawn or dusk, there is a creeping, ethereal feel to many sequences, a real triumph of photography. The hand-held camera adds to the unsettling atmosphere, and we eagerly await the first of what are sure to be many scares.
Only they never arrive. The biggest flaw in Evil Rising is that it is impossibly dull. For a film which is only 83 minutes long, it feels like twice that as the characters go through another lengthy, brooding conversation about the horrors of war, or yet another political discourse which will be lost on audiences who don’t share an understanding of the historical conflict. For this film to be classified a horror is unfortunate, as for the first 80 minutes we are given two half-hearted jumps, lost amid droning, monotonous dialogue. The script really is slow, with nothing remotely interesting happening until the final few minutes.
But what an ending. The frantic three minutes as the village’s deadly secret is revealed include a heart-stopping jump, a brief but terrifying chase, and some horrific imagery. Some of the designs here really could have come from the imagination of Edgar Allen Poe, they are that troubling. This is a scene which will really stay with the audience, and is perhaps made all the more frightening for the boredom which has preceded it.
It is a real shame that the flair and imagination that went into the ending could not have been used throughout the entire running time, as Evil Rising ultimately fails to deliver consistently enough to be worth devoting an evening to.
Evil Rising is available on DVD now