EUTHANIZER is the latest film in the “black market animal euthanizer squaring off against neo-nazis” subgenre.  What? That’s not a subgenre, you say? Fair enough. This unique concept is the brainchild of Finnish filmmaker Teemu Nikki. Probably unknown to American audiences, Nikki directed a Finnish television series and numerous short films.

So let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat. Is this movie safe for animal lovers? As you might expect, a fair number of animals die throughout the runtime. However, a combination of budgetary constraints (a reported 300,000 Euro) and a clear sensitivity toward animals influence Nikki’s script and subsequent adaptation. All of the animal deaths take place off screen (although, in a few instances, immediately off screen) while only reactions are shown. EUTHANIZER quite deliberately refuses to show any animal on screen once it dies. Meanwhile, any dead animals shown on screen were never previously shown alive.

EUTHANIZER is ruthless in its condemnation of the cruel and selfish manner that we often regard our pets

That said, there still are some scenes of implied violence toward animals that are challenging to watch. Unfortunately, EUTHANIZER also pulls its punches when it comes to the human-on-human violence, likely disappointing many genre fans. Instead, Nikki opts to focus on the dramatic conflict between the characters. In particular, the film’s philosophy on pain, guilt, and the treatment of Earth’s creatures takes center stage as the protagonist takes on a girlfriend/protege and inadvertently crosses a gang of neo-nazis.

Matti Onnismaa anchors the Finnish cast as the protagonist Viejo. Onnismaa gives a stoic performance that not only sells the film but strategically embodies the philosophical underpinnings of Nikki’s story. Despite literally killing animals for money, Veijo is the film’s most empathetic character. He manages to read his customers and the suffering pets they bring in. He spares the owners no mercy. Through Veijo, EUTHANIZER is ruthless in its condemnation of the cruel and selfish manner that we often regard our pets. In some cases, Veijo even exacts his own form of retribution in lieu of payment for his services.

Onnismaa gives a stoic performance

Granted, EUTHANIZER is not without its problems. The dramatic pacing and lack of gore may turn away viewers looking for a more hardcore experience. Imagine Brawl in Cell Block 99 if most of the violence were implied rather than shown. In addition, while the film runs a brisk 80 minutes, it somehow manages to spend a little too much time developing the over-the-top white supremacist characters. These one-dimensional antagonists are simple enough to understand, and multiple scenes with repeated n-word usage are really not necessary to understand that point. Even more unfortunate, this comes at the expense of further developing either the love interest or the complex relationship between Veijo and his father.

However, EUTHANIZER benefits from an experienced cinematographer. Each scene is carefully blocked and skillfully shot with long, elegant takes that trust the actors and script to do their job. The mixture and blending of handheld, steadicam, and dolly shots give the film an overall professional quality and do adequate justice to the beautiful Finnish countryside on display. Ultimately, EUTHANIZER is a film with an important message that it carries well. A solid recommend that’s important, if not easy, to take.

After a festival run starting at TIFF (Toronto) and culminating in BIFFF (Korea), Nikki’s film is poised for a theatrical release in July and VOD release coming up later in August.