'Absolution': Helsinki Review

Absolution Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Vertigo

Rhymes with retribution.

A hit-and-run accident triggers a nightmarish spiral of guilt and revenge in this tense domestic drama from Finnish writer-director Petri Kotwica.

Chewing on universal themes of guilt, forgiveness and revenge, Absolution is a superior suspense thriller that is not afraid to tackle difficult ethical questions. Finnish writer-director Petri Kotwica's fourth feature is a stark domestic morality tale in the spirit of recent Nordic fare like The Hunt and Force Majeure, though it lacks their bite or originality. After premiering on home turf in Helsinki two weeks ago, this Finnish-Irish co-production makes its international debut next week in competition at Warsaw Film Festival. Further festivals interest and the rising international profile of its star Laura Birn (A Walk Among The Tombstones) could open doors to modest theatrical business.

Urgency becomes emergency just minutes into the opening act, when heavily pregnant Kiia (Birn) goes into premature labor while driving home with her priest husband Lauri (Eero Aho). Racing through poorly lit country roads on the way to hospital,  Kiia strikes a heavy obstacle lurking in the shadows. Was it an animal? A human? Lauri checks behind the car, but reassures Kiia he can find nothing. They drive on to the hospital, where Kiia gives birth to a healthy baby boy.

At the hospital, Kiia meets Hanna (Mari Rantasila), a middle-aged woman whose severely injured husband lies in a coma following a hit-and-run collision. The nightmarish possibility slowly dawns on Kiia that she may have been the driver, and she confronts Lauri with her suspicions. After initially fudging and lying, he confesses he covered up the accident to protect his wife and unborn child. As the police search for the culprit, Lauri continues to adjust his slippery account of the crash while Kiia is agonized by guilt, lavishing Hanna with gifts and money without revealing her true motives.

Partly inspired by Kotwica's own experiences following a road accident, Absolution is a conventional but well-crafted chamber drama. Co-written with Johanna Hartikainen, the script handles the complexities of guilt and responsibility deftly, with a pleasingly forensic emphasis on the havoc that a troubled conscience can wreak within a marriage. While avoiding the easy option of allocating obvious villain and victim roles, it also poses some timely questions about how the religiously devout are often conveniently blind to their own sins.

Initially chilly and understated, Absolution only heats up into a baptism of fire during its final act, a tonally jarring swerve into revenge thriller territory which arguably belongs in another movie, but which does not sabotage the project significantly. Cinematographer Harry Räty's handsome aerial shots and composer Stephen Mckeon's crisp, mournful score reinforce the overall sense of quality Scandinavian product design.

Production companies; Vertigo, Newgrange Pictures
Cast: Laura Birn, Mari Rantasila, Eero Aho
Director: Petri Kotwica
Screenwriters: Petri Kotwica, Johanna Hartikainen
Cinematographer: Harry Räty
Editor: Isobel Stephenson
Music: Stephen Mckeon
Producer: Minna Virtanen
Sales company: Media Luna
No rating, 92 minutes