If you ever need proof that they don’t get enough sunlight in the Arctic Circle, Euthanizer could help you make the case. How depressing is it? Calling it grim would overstate the warmth and sense of optimism exuded by the characters who reside in this corner of the world.
Veijo (Matti Onnismaa), a 50-ish unsmiling presence, runs an off-the-grid auto repair business in a backwater Finnish town. His snap-front cap, earring, black-rimmed glasses and ever-present pipe suggest an intellectual or perhaps a loner who’s a bit out of step with the times. But beneath the surface, he seethes. His sideline, a black market service that euthanizes pets, explains a lot about him.
Euthanizer might be called a horror film without supernatural trappings, but it’s not exactly that. It’s more of a thriller and a character study. Veijo is somewhat akin to Anton Chigurh, the psychotic assassin in No Country for Old Men, but Veijo doesn’t typically vent his rage on humans — with one notable exception that I won’t mention. Like Chigurh, Veijo has an overarching sense of ethics but applies his principals to sick and suffering animals. A tormented loner, he lives amongst despicables who are less mentally sound than himself, at least in his own view.
“A tormented loner, he lives amongst despicables who are less mentally sound than himself, at least in his own view…”
He’s a harsh judge of those who seek out his services, freely expressing his disgust for the ones who neglect or abuse animals. But still, they come to his door, pet carriers in hand. And Veijo’s yard is stacked full of empty plastic crates left over after his work is done.
For smaller pets, he’s rigged up an old car with tubing that channels the exhaust fumes into the vehicle. He leaves a portable tape player on the front passenger seat playing a 1940s-sounding romantic ballad to serenade the unfortunate creature as it meets its doom — it’s hard not to think of World War II Nazi gas chambers. Large animals are led into the woods where he uses a pistol, a spade and a bag of lime.
The brooding Veijo’s life takes a turn when he crosses paths with wannabe white supremacist Petri (Jari Virman) and becomes involved with a woman. Perhaps not coincidentally, he spares a dog he’s been hired to euthanize and keeps it as a pet. That leads us to wonder if his hard veneer is about to crack, but don’t count on it.
Despite the film’s aggressively bleak tone, black comedy pops out now and then. Veijo forces a client to crawl into his doomed pet’s carrier and remain locked in a hot, airless car. And his black-rimmed glasses and hat never come off, even during sex. It’s funny, in a sort of cringe-worthy way, but I’m pretty sure there’ll never be a Euthanizer blooper reel.
“Calling it grim would overstate the warmth and sense of optimism exuded by the individuals who reside in this corner of the world.”
The nurse caring for his dying father, Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander), is intrigued by Veijo’s sideline. She asks him on a date, and it turns into an unconventional one to say the least. She watches as he plants a deceased creature in the ground, and the experience seems to enliven her. She is smitten with him on the spot — not quite the reaction you’d hope a nurse would have. But then again, almost no one in the film is without some sort of malice or strange outlook.
After the conflict between Veijo and the white supremacists comes to a head, the film takes an even darker turn, if that’s possible.
For a while, it seems we’re headed for a standard revenge film climax, but the filmmaker, Teemu Nikki, is too fleet-footed for that. Let’s just say that the ending is not a cop-out by any stretch of the imagination. In the movies, where likable heroes are considered a must, Veijo will have none of that. He’s driven by inner demons and will not relent, no matter how twisted his path becomes. Better that than catching bouquets thrown by idiots and villains.
Euthanizer (2018) Directed by Teemu Nikki. Written by Teemu Nikki. Starring Matti Onnismaa, Jari Virman, Hannamaija Nikander.
8 out of 10 vials of poison