February 25, 2019 Tuftland (Movie Review)
Many individuals dream of moving to the woods to escape the evils of modern society but some remote villages harbor dark secrets of their own, secrets that might overshadow the allure of communing with nature. Come for the peaceful serenity, but beware! Finnish Thriller Tuftland arrives to select theaters and all major VOD platforms on Friday, March 1, 2019, thanks to Subliminal Films.
A textile student who is learning first hand about the pitfalls of outsourcing, Irina (Veera W. Vilo: Bunny the Killer Thing 2015, A Man and a Woman 2016) has recently faced a break up and, to add insult to injury, she has just lost a summer job before she’s even worked a single day. Defeated and with tears in her eyes, she bids farewell to her sister Miia (Katja Jaskari: The Perfect Heist 2013, Bunny the Killer Thing 2015) and boards a bus to the isolated village of Kyrsyä, where the chance to spend her summer working with her hands beckons her, along with her need for an escape from Tampere.
Upon arrival at the nearest bus stop to town, Irina learns that she’s in for an over 6-mile hike to Kyrsyä, where they own no cars. What’s worse: the village is a minuscule patch of buildings in the middle of the Finnish backwoods with no cell phone service. However, its self-sufficient inhabitants seem warm and welcoming and Irina is immediately greeted by Maaria (Saara Elina: Gone to Mexico short 2018, Hetket 2019), a young woman who will be her roommate for the duration of her stay. She is also introduced to the motherly Maija (Ria Kataja: Black Ice 2007, Taivaan tulet series), soft-spoken Siiri (Neea Viitamäki: Jarin Matka 2: Ylösnousemus short 2019), and harsh grandmother Raakel (Arja Pekurinen: Uskottu mies series, Hetket 2019). Of course, she has already met the entirely awkward Pertti (Miikka J. Anttila: Easy Living series, Pahaa verta 2013), who escorted her into town.
As her first few days with the group pass peacefully, despite some intrusive personal questions, she is introduced to more of the family: like handsome Severi (Ari Savonen: Bunny the Killer Thing 2015, Video Cop series), who looks and acts like he just stepped off the set of Vikings, along with his sidekick Jalmari (Janne-Markus Katila: Jarin Matka short 2016, Sorsa short 2019); haunted Hilja (Niina Ylipahkala: Search for Luke short 2016, Sorsa short 2019); the beastly Mauno (Jari Manninen: Bunny the Killer Thing 2015, Punainen Kohina 2019); and the beautiful little sheep Porri. Clearly, each member of the bizarre group has a prescribed role, but what do they expect from Irina — and what is the significance of those ridiculous pompoms?
Originally titled simply Kyrsyä and presented in Finnish with English subtitles, Tuftland clocks in at roughly 89 minutes and was written and directed by the superbly talented Roope Olenius, an NYU graduate who makes his directorial debut with the film. Also worth noting is that the film is based off the play of the very same name that was authored by Neea Viitamäki, who stars here as Siiri. Additionally, Tuftland also features the acting talents of Mirja Oksanen (Innuendo 2017, Aurora 2019) and Enni Ojutkangas (Bunny the Killer Thing 2015, Elysium Hernalsiense 2017).
Filmed on location in Finland, with a beautiful attention to the natural world, one that is often present in European films, Tuftland pays a graceful homage to its scenery thanks to the work of Cinematographer Mikko Peltonen (Maria short 2013, Free Skate 2019). Furthermore, all these lovely visuals are accentuated perfectly by the film’s elegant musical score composed by Jussi Huhtala (Raventongue 2006, Backwood Madness 2019).
And the acting? Well, that’s spot on, as well. Vilo gives a stellar performance as Irina, a young woman growing disenfranchised with the big city, who seeks to escape to a simpler life and immerse herself in nature and her craft. Vilo perfectly portrays the emotional vulnerabilities that have lead a frustrated Irina to leave Tampere behind, and also does an excellent job of initially embracing the beautiful peace of Kyrsyä. She is aware enough to quickly realize that something is off with the inhabitants of the minuscule village, but also kind-hearted enough to believe in the best in people — at least initially. It’s this ability to embrace the rustic that gives Tuftland its power, as the film’s weight is in its views of modern as well as traditional evils.
Vilo’s co-stars are all given varying roles, but each and every one of them does an excellent job of being believable as a slightly awkward hillbilly-type and yet warm and welcoming enough to not send Irina immediately running back to the “big road.” Though he’s not given an excessive amount of dialogue, Anttila does an exceedingly excellent job at being entirely socially awkward, perfectly portraying what his character Pertti lacks from living such a closed off life. Elina’s Maaria is the middle-ground between modern and traditional: a family member who left the village and spent time in the big city, and Elina works beautifully in her ‘bridging’ role. Savonen and Katila work wonders too in their gruff, fairly misogynistic roles of Severi and Jalmari..
If you thought hillbillies were a fully American problem, well, you are apparently wrong: in Tuftland, we meet Finland’s answer to backwoods troubles. Part inbred family and part cult, the villagers of Kyrsyä are the perfect portrayal of the simple life: a traditional, self-sufficient farming community who shun “the big road” and modern society and coexist happily with nature. This way of life has its pros and cons, just as life in the big city does, and that is the heart of Tuftland: a glance at the dangers of trading one extreme for the other.
In effect, the success of Tuftland is in this dual condemnation of the industrialized world and the simple life. Neither is perfect but, in this particular instance, one is certainly a truly disturbing experience. With some controversial Old World views clashing with modern feminism and leaving a young woman floundering in their wake, Tuftland creates an intelligent and well-crafted tale that is part warning and wholly haunting. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Tuftland 4 of 5 stars. But pompoms?