Next of Fin

A new generation of genre-loving Finnish helmers redefines local industry

Describe a Finnish movie. If you use words such as sparse, melancholic and darkly humorous, you're probably thinking of the Kaurismakis -- brothers Aki and Mika -- whose films have defined Finnish film for a generation. But these days, if a movie bears the label "Made in Helsinki," it's more likely to have man-eating monsters than the Leningrad Cowboys.

Just take a peek at some of the recent titles to come out the tiny Nordic nation:

-- "Sauna," from Bogeydom Licensing, is a period horror film set in the 16th century and designed, according to director Antti-Jussi Annilla "to make people terrified of going back to the spa."

-- Pete Riski's "Dark Floors," which TrustNordisk is selling, stars Finnish heavy metal band Lordi as otherworldly monsters mutilating a group trapped in a mental hospital.

-- "Stone War" is a sci-fi actioner from Marko Makilaakso featuring zombie soliders and starring "300" alumnus Andrew Tiernan.

-- "Iron Sky," an upcoming sci-fi comedy from Blind Spot Pictures and directed by Timo Vuorensola, starts from the premise that, in 1945, the Nazis set up a secret military base on the far side of the moon. It's 2018, and they're coming back!

"For my generation, the Kaurismakis -- Mika and Aki -- were one of the main reasons I wanted to go to film school, they defined Finnish film for us," says Petri Rossi, CEO of Finnish production group Cineworks. "But the younger Finnish directors now grow up watching DVDs, they are much more international, most interested in an American, mainstream style. They want to tell a story and they want to entertain."

Entertainment is what Rossi is looking for. His upcoming slate as a Cineworks producer includes "Carcass," a nature-strikes-back horror film from brothers Matti and Marko Jatkola, and the psychological thriller "Trickster," directed by Arto Koskinen.

The Kaurismakis' influence still can be seen in Finnish cinema. Miika Soini's minimalist and melancholic "Thomas," which screened in competition at San Sebastian, is a case in point. And Mika Kaurismaki is enjoying something of a comeback thanks to the critical and commercial success of his new -- yes, minimalist -- drama "Three Wise Men," which is screening at the European Film Market.

But Samuli Vauramo, the Finnish actor picked to be one of this year's Shooting Stars at the Berlinale, thinks things have changed.

"There's been a huge shift in the last few years, with a lot of new young directors coming into the business and a lot of new young actors like myself who want to shift the type of stories being told and the way they are told," he says.

Vauramo is emblematic of this shift in the business. He got his start as an extra on Aki Kaurismaki's Oscar-nominated "The Man Without A Past" (2002) but has made his name in action and war movies, including "Stone's War" and Aku Louhimies' "Tears of April."

"What hasn't changed is the problem of funding," Vauramo says. "Because Finland is such a small country, all the movies are funded by the state. It's hard to get the budget to do a really big movie."

So Finnish directors are making do with less -- perhaps one of the reasons young filmmakers are choosing genre films, where big ideas can matter more than big budgets.

Judging by the sales success of Finnish horror, it's working. IFC acquired "Sauna" for DVD release in the U.S. and Lionsgate picked up "Dark Floors" for its Ghost House Underground label.

When it comes to Finland, international buyers are starting to look beyond the Kaurismakis to see the Nazis, space aliens and evil monsters lurking beneath.