Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

It’s late on Friday, and as I hurry into the theater, I can see a man in a black tux and sneakers speaking before a film, though I only catch the last words of his introduction, spoken in an unmistakable Finnish accent: “…we are all animals.” This is all very film-fest-ish, and probably not a good sign. But the movie, Euthanizer (Grade: B), turns out to be something like the real deal, a homegrown and unassumingly grotesque head-scratcher about a pipe-smoking, 60ish small-town mechanic (Matti Onnismaa) who has a side business shooting the locals’ sick dogs and gassing their cats and guinea pigs in a jerry-rigged station wagon. The moment that seduced me: Onnismaa’s character, Veijo Haukka, opens the cargo door of the station wagon, bags and limes a gassed cat, and casually tosses the plastic cat carrier on a pile behind the shed. That, and the plot of trees out behind his house, with the collars of all the dogs he’s put down dangling off the branches.

Veijo reckons himself to be some kind of folk philosopher, granted insight into the cruelty of man along with his unofficial title as an Angel Of Death to the area’s pets and wildlife: cruising the local roads every evening to find and bury roadkill, striking sadistic bargains (say, making a man sit in a dog crate while he puts a bullet in his pooch’s skull), lecturing every customer that comes his way about their mistreatment of animal life. Well, as everyone in town shrugs, he’s still a lot cheaper than the vet. The TIFF program notes draw needlessly hyperbolic comparisons to Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, and Monte Hellman, but the fact is that director Teemu Nikki—the guy in the black tux and sneakers, it turns out—is nowhere as sensationalist as those first two points of comparison make him sound.

Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

The Hellman thing I can almost see; there’s some commonality between Veijo and his intensely defined outsider anti-heroes. But the plot is really twisted noir. The classic triad of sex, death, and money is filled in here with fratty white supremacists, a couple of trunk-loads of missing tires, and a hospice nurse (Hannamaija Nikander) who likes being choked. It all leads to a fiery implosion that—at the risk of sounding excessively vague—is both predestined and meaningless. Nikki, who appears to be making the most of an extremely limited budget, has attempted to make something like a modern-day take on the creepy, kinky, deeply personal B-movie, studiously avoiding anything that would smack of revivalism; after all, no authentic B-movie ever set out to look like a B-movie. The surrealists would have liked this film.

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