There’s an entire genre of movies where a grizzled old-timer with a particular set of skills gets entangled with unsuspecting ruffians who mistakenly stick their noses in his business. Sisu, a Nordic import from writer-director Jalmari Helander, distributed in the U.S. by Lionsgate, is exactly that movie. Only a bit better than you’re used to. Helander’s down-and-dirty prospector vs. Nazi actioner has no interest in rewriting the bones of these familiar trappings so much as getting that formula almost perfectly right, in part by setting it in Nazi-occupied Finland in the closing moments of WWII. Focusing on over-the-top physicality and no-holds-barred brutality, Sisu is an ultra-violent exploitation B-movie that caters to its simple strengths at nearly every junction.
Jorma Tommila is Aatami Korpi, a Finnish ex-solider turned reclusive prospector. His reputation as a one-man army makes him a danger to any who stand in the way of wherever he happens to be going. As Sisu begins, that means traversing the Finnish Lapland wilderness to the city center bank to deposit his gold findings. The only issue is the battalion of SS officers standing directly in his way. The prospector is a man of few words, and nearly goes the entire movie without uttering a single syllable (grunts and groans aside). He lets his actions speak for him. Those actions, unsurprisingly, are ultra-violence as poetry. With a pick-axe.
In many ways, Sisu makes a great pairing with the John Wick franchise. Both are about strong, silent-type men who are more legend than flesh and blood, learned in the dark arts of killing and surviving, hell bent on getting what they want and dispensing any vast number of adversaries who stand in their way. Whereas Wick is all about gunplay and flashy modern locales, Sisu takes advantage of its WWII setting to make for its own brand of balletic warfare pop, complete with Panzer tanks, landmines, and good old fashion rope and noose. Hell, the prospector even has a loyal pup fighting at his side.
To give you an idea of the level of ridiculous action in store, there’s a moment where the prospector is hiding underwater, a literally army of Nazis waiting on the embankment for him to surface. He’s trapped. Dead to rights. But he’s not coming up. Eventually they start sending men down after him. A dozen feet under, our prospector slashes their throats and sucks the air right out of their Nazi lungs. He proceeds to make his way beneath the lake by lung-scuba. Does it make any sense? No. Is it amazing nonetheless? You bet. The moment is as hilarious as it is ridiculous and badass, and just the kind of action insanity that a movie like Sisu promises and then delivers on scene after scene after scene.
Helander, known in horror circles for helming the 2010 cult Christmas slasher Rare Exports, leans into just how batty and deranged this all is, while still delivering a definitionally badass product. Tommila oozes screen presence as the battle-weary prospector while co-stars Aksel Hennie and Jack Doolan make for adversaries you can’t wait to see meet their gruesome end. The script, also from Helander, finds power in simplicity, concocting increasingly unhinged ways for the prospector to take down baddies, often armed with nothing more than a pick-axe and his legendary unwillingness to die.
CONCLUSION: This Finnish response to John Wick sees a prospector take out a Nazi army in gory style. ‘Sisu’ is an insanely over-the-top historical-actioner that’s pure grindhouse delight and little more. This, this right here, is what a modern B-movie should be.