This Finnish genre movie (with an array of odd accents) has a couple of game-change twists, which lend it a certain distinction – though it works several fields that aren’t exactly fresh: snuff movie/torture porn/retro ‘70s, the haunting of a squabbling movie crew making a horror film based on real events on the location where they took place and a post-modern Twilight Zone with a Scream twist as characters come to realise that they’re living (and dying) in a conventional horror film (one girl kicks herself for being involved in an irrelevant lesbian sex scene).
A long opening sequence, set in the 1970s, has unwary Lisa (Rita Suomalainen) and a friend stagger from a car crash in a remote region near the Russian border to a grimy, run-down mental hospital for help and falling into the clutches of Dr Anderssen (David Yoken), a snuff movie-making mad genius who calls himself ‘the auteur’. After a good twenty minutes of standard business, well-directed if shrilly acted, the pieces fall in place as hints of lunatics taking over the asylum and the wounded friend turning up with his arm hacked off begging the heroine to put him out of his misery, we glimpse the reflection of a cameraman and take it for the mad doctor shooting his snuff films … but it’s the crew shooting ‘Silent Creek’, a low-budget horror directed by ranting, goateed Brit Steve (Steve Porter) based on the Anderssen crimes and starring name-dropping overactor Bruce (Yoken) – who claims he was in The War of the Roses and knows Renny Harlin – and would-be scream queen Lisa (Suomalainen). There are a few smart comments about how even in the 1970s hospitals weren’t as grimy as the art direction has made this location and imported Brit/American filmmakers who don’t know Finland wasn’t in the Soviet Union – but it’s odd that Porter’s performance is hammier even than Yoken’s, even as he rants about hating overacting.
The crew find Anderssen’s stash of snuff films and Steve becomes obsessed by them, even as the project seems on the point of collapsing from lack of funds – soon, he’s tricking the crew into starring in his own snuff movies (remakes of snuff movies?) and there are set-piece nastinesses like the friends forced to fight each other with spiked bats and the girl drilled in the head. Lisa and Anna (Anna Alkiomaa), the reluctant lesbian, are among the longer-lasting characters who find the film in progress and realise from the dolly shots and cuts that Steve isn’t making it, but that they are characters in Skeleton Crew, a horror film – realising that she’s not the main character, Anna tries to dodge her fate by putting Lisa in harm’s way but this is one of those films in which the killer carries through his mission (‘are you ready for your close-up?) and everyone gets it. With this premise, it’s possible that what seems like bad acting (and Porter is quite dreadful) is deliberate and some of the unappetising elements (the cynicism and nastiness in depicting horrible horrible characters being beastly to each other non-stop) are also supposed to be caricatures of a certain type of Roth-Zombie modern horror (even the heroine goes down on the ghastly director in the hopes he’ll take her to Hollywood). The interplay between the two women who compete to be ‘final girl’ is interesting – Lisa is plainly the main character, but Alkiomaa is a much more appealing actress even if her character has to show a tough, selfish streak which actually disqualifies her from survival.
The variable accents get a lot of internet mockery, but how else are Finns speaking a second language supposed to sound? One of the best moments comes when, fed up with all the patronising talk about local ineptitudes, a crew person sounds off against Steve in angry unsubtitled Finnish. The gore is unpleasant, gruesomely liquid and again in keeping with what’s going on in films like Autopsy or Train or Hostel. So, this is Staunton Hill, Return to Horror High and Midnight Movie stuck together: but, perhaps because none of these stick around long enough to be really ennervating, I sort of liked it. Checking it out on the net, I find this is one of those films which gets generally positive notices from genre-savvy critics but is subject to torrents of abuse from whatever category of viewer used to post comments on the IMDb: I’ve noticed that before and wondered whether it’s because critics of this sort of thing see so many that a little self-awareness and some unusual twists make a film stand out (which is certainly how I feel) or whether the disproportionate hatred just comes because only that proportion of folks who really take against something bother to post while a larger section of well-it’s-okay-I-guess types don’t feel strongly enough to speak up. Written and directed by Tommi Lepola and Tero Molin.