‘Priest of Evil’ Gives the Best Moment to the Bad Guy

Timo Harjunpää is one of the best cops Helsinki has, but he’s not above human suffering. When his eldest daughter is killed he wallows in grief and comes dangerously close to losing everything he has in an act of revenge. Before his family can even mention their loss, Harjunpää’s investigating several unusual deaths inside the city’s metro stations and desperately holding on to his sanity; soon he decides he’s had enough and detaches himself from the man he was, setting in motion a series of events that place all he holds dear in deep jeopardy.

Based on a novel by Matti Joensuu this 2010 film stars Peter Franzén (True Blood) as Harjunpää and Irina Björklund as his wife, Elisa. Franzén is dark, brooding, and often frightening in the role, portraying the character’s moral dilemma with the correct balance of determination and resignation. Films such as this require an excellent bad guy and Sampo Sarkola does not disappoint as the chilling psychopath Johannes Heino.

You might find yourself wanting to believe that Priest of Evil could be an above average thriller––with exciting plot complications that rise above the standard fare, with something to say about moral ambiguity, with a couple of exciting action sequences that takes us beyond the predictable. Expect those and you will be disappointed. Despite some initial promise it becomes just another family/woman in jeopardy thriller made slightly more exotic by subtitles and its setting.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things to admire about Priest of Evil. The lead actors are all incredibly watchable. Franzén’s stormy moods and righteous indignation might wear out their welcome rather quickly for some but he’s still a remarkably convincing actor; it might be hard for some to entirely swallow Björklund’s fragile naïveté but she is nevertheless a capable actress who gives a believable performance as a woman whose desire to believe in anything while her husband increasingly believes in nothing drives her to the edge of destruction. Heino, as mentioned earlier, is in many ways the most fully realized and compelling characters in the film and Sarkola doesn’t waste a moment of screen time delving into the darkness that substitutes for the character’ soul.

The supporting cast and characters are predictably static and, in varying degrees, forgettable. Rosa Salomaa plays Harjunpää’s youngest daughter, Paulina, who, in her way struggles to keep the family together, identifying with her father’s descent into darkness and blaming her mother’s blind faith for the clan’s shared misfortunes. Salomaa plays more than a brooding, angst-filled teen, she plays a brooding, angst-filled teen with intelligence and, what in the hands of a better scripts, would be deep concerns. But even she can’t avoid being largely forgotten in the mess that serves as the script.

For all this story could do and probably should have done, it ultimately dodges some of the real questions in favor of easy answers and genre clichés. The film limps to a soggy resolution that almost has us feeling less sympathy for our hero than we feel for our villain. There are a number of excellent Scandinavian thrillers in circulation at the moment––including Morten Tyldum’s wickedly smart and funny 2011 picture Headhunters––but, alas, Priest of Evil is not among them.

This DVD contains the film’s theatrical trailer but no other extras.

RATING 5 / 10