How about some music? That’s the song that the title character of “Euthanizer” plays for his victims as he kills them. After all, he asks an onlooker to the gassing of a guinea pig, “What song would you like to die to?”
“Euthanizer” is sort of what you’d get if Jeremy Saulnier decided to make a movie about a righteously indignant freelance pet euthanizer and animal lover who goes up against a particularly pathetic group of teenage white supremacists. It has that modern indie-exploitation aesthetic of handheld precision and just-nearly-shocking-but-not-quite violence. And while it never quite goes as far as you want it to — neither visually nor narratively — its restraint is what sets it apart from more self-indulgent artsploitation festival fare.
Veijo (Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa, in what is apparently his first starring role) will kill your pet for you if need be, but not before teaching you a lesson about the evils of animal domestication. He shames a girl for owning a cat (“your flat is a 20-odd square metre prison. The normal habitat for a feline is over a square kilometre. It can’t be replaced by an evening cuddle — or a designer scratch post”), locks a dog owner in his dog’s kennel (“[your dog] wants to thank you: ‘Thank you for buying me from a puppy mill. You supported their business and made sure that, in the future, there will be more inbred and overbred dogs suffering from hereditary diseases’ ”) and refuses to euthanize another dog when he suspects its owner is lying about it biting one of his children.
Meanwhile, Petri (Jari Virman), a beleaguered mechanic, is feeling underappreciated both at home and at work. To make some extra money on the side, Petri steals tires from his boss’s shipments and sells them to these four local wannabee neo-nazis who call themselves the “Soldiers of Finland.” The group spend most of their time drunkenly singing karaoke in their garage and excitedly ordering custom SoF skull t-shirts online. They’re plainly pathetic, contemptible rather than frightening, and yet Petri worships them. To Petri they’re powerful, their racial slurs liberating; as such, he begins to mimic their bullying tactics in his own life.
Veijo has a strict moral code when it comes to the suffering of animals. He believes that animal suffering is equal to human suffering and that karma dictates that any person who harms an animal deserves to suffer the same pain or indignity that they inflicted on the animal. His rigid moral code attracts the attention of a pretty young nurse with an asphyxiation fetish (Hannamaija Nikander) — the film’s most shocking scene involves Veijo almost choking the woman to death in the throes of passion.
It takes longer than you might expect for Veijo and Petri’s stories to intersect, and when they finally do meet it’s almost inconsequential. By the time “Euthanizer” arrives at the inevitable Veijo-Petri showdown, it’s notable that they are both being driven by the events of their own personal lives, rather than by any real conflict between the two of them — Veijo by what he perceives to be a karmic imbalance in the world, and Petri by his own self-loathing and desire to be respected.
Petri is an obvious analogy for post-Brexit/Trump white discontent and perceived disempowerment leading to racism and violence, and to some extent, the film has its fun ragging on him and his nazi friends (and, by extension, Brexit and Trump voters). But “Euthanizer” is primarily concerned with criticizing individual tendencies toward moral grandiosity. Veijo spends much of the movie trying to rectify the world’s wrongs, impose his own moral values (as regards the treatment and domesticity of animals) on others, and to personally right the karmic imbalance furthered every time a person gets away with doing something bad.
I’m convinced that Veijo is a stand-in for the “cultural elite” (I hate that phrase, but there you have it), the Trump-hating academics and artists, the sensitive, right-thinking souls of the world. And while “Euthanizer” disdains and ridicules nazism, it takes Veijo’s uber-moralistic attitude quite seriously (likely due to the fact that its audience will be composed not of Trump/Brexit voters, but of liberal-minded film people like myself). “Euthanizer” is a cautionary tale about the wrong ways to impose your values on others (vigilantism) and the easy and avoidable danger in alienating potential allies.
In “Euthanizer,” director Teemu Nikki has successfully created a cinematic metaphor for contemporary world politics, one that is full of unexpected plot developments and a surprisingly thoughtful take on personal morality. While the film takes a while to truly get going, its intriguing imagery is more than enough to engage the viewer from frame one. If the locations are banal, they are nonetheless well-utilized. “Euthanizer” is a great addition to – and a new take on – the current wave of grungy exploitation independent cinema. [B]