Judge Alice Nelson once saw Judas Priest in concert—they weren't evil, just cheesy.
When God and evil meet…
Facts of the Case
Helsinki police officer Timo (Peter Franzen) is still grieving over the brutal murder of his daughter Emmi (Saga Sarkola), two years earlier. Timo and his wife, Elise (played by Franzen's real life wife Irina Bjorklund), barely speak to each other, and Timo has dumped his police ordered shrink, turning instead to popping pills in order to get through the day. To make matters worse, Timo finds out that his daughter's killer is set to be released soon, while he and his partner, Ornerva (Jenni Banerjee), are investigating a string of deaths that appear to be the work of a serial killer with one hell of a Messianic complex.
Simply gauging by its title, Priest of Evil sounds more like the name of a cheesy horror flick than the gritty crime thriller it turns out to be. This isn't a case of something getting horribly lost in translation, it is a literal interpretation from Matti Yrjänä Joensuua's novel, from which the film is adapted. Joensuua is a former detective at the Violent Crimes Unit of the Helsinki Police Department, just as the novel's hero Timo is.
Director Olli Saarela gives us a film that feels much like a two-act play. The first act explores how the murder has affected the entire family; Timo, our flawed hero spends most of his time popping pills to deal with his grief, thinking only about avenging the death of Emmi. Elise has retreated into a world where only her and their surviving daughter, Paulina (Rosa Salomaa), exist; she blames Timo for Emmi's death because she was killed when he was late in picking her up from a concert. And poor Paulina is living in the shadows of a sister she also loves and misses, but is ignored by parents wallowing in their own self-pity and pain.
The second act switches gears entirely, and becomes a typical police procedural. Here, we get the back story of Johannes (Sampo Sarkola), the serial killer, and how his terrible childhood contributed to the making of a monster. Timo has shaken off his grief, thanks to his patient and long suffering partner, Ornerva, and begins acting like a cop again as he and Ornerva begin putting the pieces together on the string of murders linked to one mysterious man.
Priest of Evil isn't unique or original; we've seen hundreds of films where psychotic killers use God as an excuse to murder their fellow man. Still, this one works because of the fine performances by Frenzen and Bjorklund, especially in the first half when they are in the grips of their grief and loss. Sarkola is good as our killer, his performance is a bit hammy, but what better role than a Messianic murderer to take you're acting over the top. The screen adaptation by Leo Virret works well. Although I've never read the book, he seems to have captured the characters and moved them successfully from one medium to another.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation shows clearly a Helsinki that resembles the crime ridden streets of New York City. This Dolby 5.1 Surround Finnish language track is supplemented by wonderfully legible subtitles that make it easy to follow the storyline. This bare bones DVD has only one extra: the film's trailer.
Police procedurals are a dime a dozen, but Priest of Evil doesn't rest on the laurels of a genre that is often phoned in by most filmmakers. The powerful performances and nifty screen adaptation makes this one worth watching.
And all the Finnish say…"Not Guilty."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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