Finnish writer/director Teemu Nikki calls his third feature film, Euthanizer (‘Armomurhaaja’, 2018), a violent Finnish summer noir. The basic idea for the film is derived from the vigilante genre films of 1970s and 80s; a lonely punisher prefers to deliver instant justice to the wrongdoers. But despite the B-movie exploitation genre vibe, Euthanizer has a fine emotional core, which brings forth a poignant examination of suffering and cruelty. The fifty-year-old Veijo (the brilliant Matti Onnismaa, a veteran actor in his first leading role) runs a broken-down auto-repair shop (‘Haukka's Repairs and End Solutions’) in a poor backwater region of Finland. He has a side business as black-market pet euthanizer. Interestingly, Veijo also happens to be an animal lover who claims to deeply understand and feel the pain of animals. The hapless pet owners often bring their suffering pets since they can’t afford the high fees demanded by local veterinary hospital, for either healing or euthanizing them.
In the opening scene, we see Veijo leading the life of a hermit, working from a derelict shed. The place is littered with pet carriers and behind his house in the plot of trees, dog collars dangles from the branches. A young woman brings her old, sick cat to be put to sleep. With a dead-pan stare, Veijo explains that small animals get the gas, while the bigger ones are shot. He has Jerry-rigged his car to turn it into a gas chamber. When the woman asks if her cat will suffer, Veijo lists the suffering the cat has gone through as her pet: from confinement to wasting illness (“your flat is a 20-odd square meter prison. The normal habitat for a feline is over a square kilometer. It can’t be replaced by an evening cuddle”, he casually remarks). After gassing the cat, Vejio tosses it into a bag, pours some lime, and buries it among the trees in backyard. The philosophy and contradiction behind being an animal lover and euthanizer is addressed through Veijo’s further actions.
Veijo, cloaked in black tux and black sneakers, sees himself as some kind of ‘Angel of Death’ for miserable pets in the area. He even travels the local roads to find and bury the road-kills. He berates every customer who has mistreated their animals in some way and wants to teach a lesson or two about domesticating animals in order to serve as pets. His strong belief in Karma makes him think that you cannot do anything you choose without facing its consequences. Veijo locks a dog owner in his dog’s kennel and straight-out refuses to put down a dog, whose owner he suspects is lying about the dog biting his child. However, when the owner beleaguers Veijo, he extracts more money and promises to put it to sleep. But Veijo simply takes in the dog as his own pet. The dog owner is a clumsy garage mechanic and member of a racist gang, Petri (Jari Virman). They call themselves ‘Soldiers of Finland’, but these neo-nazis are actually pathetic, miserable and lonely. When not shooting and gassing the animals, Veijo visits his ailing father at the hospice, where he meets young nurse Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander). She is attracted towards Veijo’s strict moral code. A sort of twisted romance is established between them as Lotta likes getting choked during sex. All the unaddressed emotions and desires implode at one moment, moving towards the inevitable, predestined show-down between Veijo and Petri.
Those who doesn’t flinch watching humans being subjected to violence on-screen, but bawl their eyes out when witnessing hints of on-screen violence directed against animals should be forewarned. Although, the animal deaths are devoid of graphic violence, it might still be perturbing for some. For the most part, Euthanizer is an interesting, low-budget take on B-movie revenge plots like the recent John Wick. Director Teemu Nikki doesn’t really try to revive or reconstruct the familiar vigilante story, but he smartly breaks the conventional rules for realizing heroes and villains. Here the hero, whom we root for, shoots and kills both animals and humans without a second thought, whereas the villain is just an ignorant, misled family man with a desire to gain some respect in life. Petri stands-in for the increasing white discontent, whose violent streak arises from the fear of dis-empowerment. Teemu is also disdainful of Veijo’s righteously indignant moralistic attitude. Of course, we stand-by Veijo when he delivers his personal revenge on the jackasses. But the film is not pro-vigilantism since director Teemu sharply addresses the ironies Veijo failed to acknowledge. The final shot is darkly humorous as well as unsettling, reflecting Veijo’s own philosophical blind spot (or distorted moral compass) while reiterating his Karmic belief: you can’t escape the consequences.
Teemu Nikki is pretty much a self-taught film-maker, who has directed, wrote, edited and co-produced the movie. So the final product instills a sense of hand-made look which finely balances the B-movie sensibilities and commentary on morality and anti-heroes. In this vein, Euthanizer can serve as companion piece to the other fairly interesting revenge flicks from this year: Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge and Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade. All these movies take strange detours and boasts suave twists so as to transcend the limits of grungy, old-school revenge tales. It’s all both familiar and distinctive and adds more depth to the bleaker worldview.