'Euthanizer' ('Armomurhaaja'): Film Review | TIFF 2017

Courtesy of TIFF
A distinctively dark Finnish tale of karma and tough love.

A black-market side job turns a mechanic into an odd champion of animal welfare in Teemu Nikki's dark comedy.

A DIY animal-killer mightn't be the first person you'd ask to champion the welfare of household pets, but Teemu Nikki's eponymous Euthanizer cuts straight to the heart of issues between defenseless animals and the human owners who, at least in this corner of Finland, put regrettably little thought into their well-being. Funny, bitter and sometimes bleak, the picture draws much of its appeal from a deadpan performance by star Matti Onnismaa. It will be best received in those corners of the fest circuit devoted to boundary-pushing fare, but is not nearly so extreme that it couldn't do well for the right art house distrib.

Onnismaa plays Veijo, a fiftysomething mechanic who also advertises pet-disposal services. He charges much less than the local vet to put animals out of their misery, but the discount comes with a catch: He's likely to deliver a free diagnosis of your fallings as a caretaker. When, for instance, a young woman shows up with a cat and asks to be reassured that little Nekku will not suffer, he calmly sums up the animal's life to this point: the cat "alleviates your need to nurture" and has lived in the "20-odd square meter prison" of her flat, getting just a few daily moments of physical affection. No, he decides, she will not suffer by being removed from the woman's care. Veijo places the pet-carrier in the back of an old station wagon, plays a gentle song on a boombox and lets hoses redirect the engine's exhaust back inside to ensure a quick and painless death.

Veijo won't, however, just kill any animal. He rescues a black mutt from Petri (Jari Virman), a dishonest garage employee whose buddies have a delightful gang of white supremacists called the Soldiers of Finland. This decision will lead to trouble later, but not before Veijo finds love.

Lotta (Hannamaija Nikader), a nurse attending to Veijo's dying father, is weirdly intrigued by his calling. She suggests they go out, and isn't disappointed when his idea of a date is driving around to bury roadkill. It's not clear whether Lotta, a fan of being choked during sex, admires his unconventional idealism or is just turned on by proximity to death. Either way, their budding romance has a charm that Nikki refuses to over-exploit.

The action takes a surprising dark turn that turns out not to be so dark. Then it takes a real one: As we come to understand the origins of Veijo's mission, he starts to seem in danger of directing some of his violent talents toward his fellow man.

Nikki's screenplay gives into contrivance with at least one recurring element, involving an actual licensed veterinarian: Our hero needs a foil to illuminate his principles, but actual practitioners of animal medicine are pretty unlikely to behave as this one does.

But viewers who bond with Veijo are unlikely to complain at this point. Clad in a uniform of black denim, the uncompromising man proves capable of holding himself to his own high standard. Though in the end this leads to much less pleasure than was had in those opening scenes of pet-owner comeuppance, viewers will hardly be able to say they weren't warned. As Veijo has told his customers, "there's always a reason for pain."

 

Production company: It's Alive Films

Cast: Matti Onnismaa, Jari Virman, Hannamaija Nikander, Heikki Nousiainen, Jouko Puolanto, Pihla Penttinen

Director-Screenwriter-Editor: Teemu Nikki

Producers: Jani Poso, Teemu Nikki

Director of photography: Sari Aaltonen

Production designers-Costume designers: Teemu Nikki, Sari Aaltonen

Composer: Timo Kaukolampi, Tuomo Puranen

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)

Sales: Diane Ferrandez, WIDE

 

In Finnish

83 minutes

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