Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rites of Blood – review

Director: Sami Haavisto

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

I have looked at another film by Finnish director Sami Haavisto, in the form of Desire of the Innocent Blood. Many of the cast of this film were also in the earlier film. I am quiet taken by the ambitious films Haavisto has made, even if they may have the occasional problem.

This film is dual language. The first half is in English, the second in Finnish and these correspond to the time periods with the first half being set in the 19th Century (in Wallachia) and the second half in the present day (in Helsinki).

Mika Vattulainen as the Cardinal
It starts with a witch burning and intertitles inform us that the practice of witch burning had all but died out except amongst a few die-hards. In this case the perpetrator is Cardinal DeCeville (Mika Vattulainen) though, as the story progresses, it would seem that the Abbess Catherine (Kirsi Vahomäki) is actually the power behind the Crosier.

Marie (played in the 18th Century section by both Nanda De Bruijn & Emma Räihä) is a flute playing country girl who has joined a Satanic cult led by a Warlock (Kai Zakowski). She confirms her desire to take the final rites. The Cardinal is hunting in the area, however, having received intelligence that a witch cult is there. The rumour is that the next rite will involve human sacrifice.

ritual sacrifice
The rite does indeed include the sacrifice of Marie’s love (Nino Hynninen) but, during the rite, the Cardinal and his soldiers attack. All the witches are killed, bar Marie who is knocked out but alive, and the warlock is captured. The Cardinal kills one of his own men who was going to rape a witch. The warlock is tortured, a confession signed and he is hung but Marie (still in her ritual mask, half naked and covered in blood) sneaks into the Cardinal’s keep.

a hanging
There is a scene where (I assume she makes) a nun hallucinates Jesus coming down from a cross and subsequently shows the nun, naked, rubbing against the bleeding religious figure that will, I am sure, manage to insult many a person watching the film. Jesus becomes Marie and she kills the nun ritually and is then caught, pleads that she is pregnant and then sentenced to be buried alive anyway. This takes us almost to the end of the 18th Century section and it is a tad over long as an introduction.

a victim
I do have to mention, however, that one compassionate Christian unearths her body and finds the child born in the coffin – barely alive. He sends the child north to be fostered (in Finland). This is important as it gives us our lore. In the modern day we meet Marie (Mari Koivula) in a hotel room with a victim – the victim’s throat ripped out. She remembers being buried alive and then being born – Marie, therefore, became/possessed her own daughter. She was fostered and at a given point killed the foster parents and stopped growing older. She has to kill and drink blood (presumably, given the fact that she fills a glass with blood). She literally rips the throats of her victims out with her fingers.

Marie and Anton
She falls in love with a guy named Anton (Juha Särestöniemi) but the Cardinal and Abbess are still around and vampires as well (I assume, there is talk of marks on the neck but no biting is shown). This is where the film lost me a little, I’m afraid. I just couldn’t reconcile why they were now vampires. Marie, yes, she made a pact with the devil but, despite the religious pair being bloodthirsty and murderers, the fact that they were vampires seemed incongruous. I guess they came to Finland as the baby was sent north but that isn’t actually relayed.

blood at mouth
More than this, I didn’t actually buy the relationship between Gothy Marie and straight laced Anton and there were story aspects that I won’t spoil that just happened with no narrative explanation or flow. The second half of the film also suffered from poor pacing. It’s a shame because a period piece that then flows into a modern piece was a brave move by the filmmakers and I do believe I have a soft spot for Sami Haavisto’s films. The gore was well done and used practical effects – one particular needle related effect made me cringe (making it absolutely effective). However nothing can hide the pacing flaws and the narrative gaps. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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