1 h 38 min
Drama, Thriller, Domestic, Night Visions
”Adark psychothriller mixing S&M mind games with American genre elements, The Prodigal Son is a real original that bites like a coiled rattlesnake. Fests are likely to snap up this Scandi-bauble for late-night slots and, with careful handling, it could beat out some cult business on the art-house circuit. ---
Central character is tough ex-con Esa (Hannu Kivioja), who by chance takes on paid jobs as a bruiser when he can’t find regular employment. At first he just beats up street thugs; as word spreads, he starts taking private clients who enjoy the experience.
Enter the outwardly respectable Lindstrum (Finnish vet Esko Salminen), a wealthy, middle-aged psychiatrist who imposes more and more demands during his masochistic sessions with Esa. Soon he demands Esa’s exclusive services, and has him hooked on drugs. A weird father-son relationship develops.
When Esa falls for a blonde called Laura (Leea Klemola) and starts to go off his new line of work, Lindstrum retaliates with the ferocity of a cornered Doberman, implicating Esa in a horrific murder. The finale, set in a prison hospital, is a real squirmer.
There’s plenty going on here that easily could have degenerated into pure exploitation or ludicrous farce. But helmer Veikko Aaltonen, in only his second feature, keeps a strong hand on the tiller, corralling the movie’s volatile elements with care and drawing intense, focused perfs from his smallish cast (especially the silky-tongued Salminen and wild-eyed Kivioja).
Despite the psychiatrist’s clear misogynism, the pic is more about power and control than homoerotic themes. Most of the violence takes place offscreen, with only one of the many S&M sessions detailed. It’s all the more powerful for that.
Running alongside the thriller elements is a strong vein of black humor that sends up the characters’ foibles even as the dramatic screw tightens. Iiro Kuttner’s tightly written, chessboard script juggles cornball elements from other genre pictures — such as our hero literally refocusing his life thanks to the love of a good woman — with scant attention to reality and even less to viewer empathy. The whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Tech credits are fine down the line, with special mentions for Timo Salminen’s sharply lit photography and Mauri Sumen’s unabashed thriller score.”
- Derek Elley / Variety
Directed by: Veikko Aaltonen; Cast: Hannu Kivioja, Esko Salminen, Leea Klemola, Markku Peltola, Antti Raivio, Sulevi Peltola, Matti Onnismaa
Language: Finnish, no subtitles