(A.k.a. ARMOMURHAAJA [original title])

"There's always a certain beauty to the end of pain".

In a matter-of-fact prologue, middle-aged grinch Veijo (Matti Onnismaa) toils diligently in his repairs workshop one afternoon when pretty blonde Elisa (Alina Tomnikov) appears, holding a caged cat in her arms. She explains that the cat is her pet, Nekku, and she believes it to be sick. Veijo confirms that he "euthanizes" animals as a side-line - explaining that he gases the smaller ones, whereas the larger ones tend to get shot.

After berating Elisa for selfishly acquiring a cat as companionship in her inadequately small flat, thus ruining the animal's health over time, Veijo takes Nekku in its cage, sits it on the back seat of his car, attaches a funnel to the hosepipe, turns on the ignition ... and calmly stands outside smoking a cigarette as Nekku chokes to death.

Cue the opening titles to this curious Finnish film.

We soon learn that Veijo lives on the outskirts of a small community, whose locals regard him as one of the town's "specialities". He's renowned not only for his pet-snuffing skills, but also the stern sermons he doles out on his customers. It turns out, you see, that Veijo truly cares for these animals and is ending their lives in acts of compassion. It's their unthinking owners that he holds contempt for: we see him shoot the dog of a man tired of paying vet's bills, but only after the dog's owner has agreed to crawl into his pet's cage in the boot of his car and spend a significant time locked in there - just so Veijo can show him what he put his loyal dog through.

As Veijo goes about his business steadily building a reputation for his harsh lessons and no-bullshit talking, we meet an altogether different character from the other side of town: hot-headed mechanic Petri (Jari Virman).

Petri has been stealing tyres from his employer and selling them to the white supremacist group he secretly belongs to. He's recently come under suspicion at work and so has the awkward task of telling his racist peers that he'll struggle to get them anymore tyres from now on. Which makes life doubly hard for Petri, because he was relying on the money he'd make on his illicit sale to pay for having his girlfriend's dog Mussu spayed later that day.

Plan B: Petri rings his girlfriend and tells her Mussu ran away and got ran over. As she cries down the 'phone, Petri reassures her that he'll give her pet a dignified burial. Of course, the dog is still alive and kicking. Petri tries but can't bring himself to execute it. I think we all know where Petri will shortly be taking said beast.

Sure enough, Petri soon turns up at Veijo's remote workshop asking for assistance. He claims the dog is violent but Veijo soon deducts that this is not the case. He offers to shoot the dog for 150 Euros but instead secretly keeps it as a pet, renaming it Piki.

Of course, this is bound to blow up in Veijo's face when violent Petri discovers Mussu is still alive - and that he's been robbed of 150 Euros.

Along the way, we have sub-plots concerning Veijo's motivated vigil at his father Martti's (Heikki Nousiainen) hospital deathbed each week, and the twisted relationship he embarks upon with his dad's death-obsessed nurse Lotta (Hannamaija Nikander).

EUTHANIZER - I hate that title so much - is a beguiling prospect. It's an 82-minute meditation on the value of life, the respect it deserves, and the respect (or lack of) that it receives. Writer-director Teemu Nikki's contemplative feature debut positions Veijo's character in a Christ-like role, determining whether speechless pets are ready to be put-down - and yet holds control over his ailing father's life. Something that legally, and morally, cannot be taken away as simply as shooting a bullet into a worn-looking dog's brain. Treat your pets as you yourself would wish to be treated ...

These moral complexities are handled deftly thanks to Nikki's intelligent script, which never overplays its moral conundrums while exercising its right to an agreeably pitched level of subtle, mordant humour throughout. The cast are pivotal in the success of such material. Thankfully, all performances are top-notch - especially the effortlessly charismatic Onnismaa. There's a scene about 50 minutes into play where he receives bad news via a 'phone call and all we get from this cool character is a fleeting flicker of despair in his eyes. It's enough. It's very subtle but incredibly effective in its own manner.

EUTHANIZER is a small film - it feels small in terms of scope (budget, locations, plot, its own little universe) - but benefits greatly not only from a challenging screenplay and game performances, but also from impressively spacious, cool cinematography and an enjoyably eclectic score which really makes an impact whenever it's employed (sparingly, which is wise).

It's stylish, measured, attractive and dark. Very dark, despite the aforementioned moments of humour. And I enjoyed EUTHANIZER a lot.

The film is being released as a VOD title by Uncork'd Entertainment. We were sent an online screener for review purposes. It looked fantastic in a pin-sharp widescreen presentation, which accurately conveyed its cool, subdued colour schemes while putting across the Finnish 2.0 audio track in an equally clean and clear fashion. Burned-in English subtitles were well-written and easy to read at all times.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Uncork'd Entertainment