Released in 2010, Rare Exports was a mischievous comic horror film about a small Finnish town menaced by a feral Santa Claus. Action thriller Big Game marks writer-director Jalmari Helander’s English-language debut, and like Rare Exports, it mischievously plays with the expectations of its genre.
Set in the mountains of northern Finland, it introduces Oskari (Onni Tommila, the returning star of Rare Exports), a 13-year-old boy nervously attempting to pass a coming-of-age test. It’s the custom in Oskari’s community for a boy to head out into the forest and hunt down the biggest animal he can find; as one elder puts it, “A boy goes into the wilderness and comes back as a man.”
The problem is, Oskari’s far from a born hunter; unlike his father (Jorma Tommila), who managed to off a bear with a single arrow when he was 13, Oskari barely has the strength to pull the string back on his bow – Katniss Everdeen he is not.
Meanwhile, a group of villains is hunting some big game of its own: the America President, William Allan Moore (Samuel L Jackson), who was on his way to a summit in Helsinki when his Air Force One jet was hit by the terrorists’ missile. William, we learn, also has a few confidence issues; disliked by the electorate, and isn’t exactly what you’d describe as fearless in the face of danger. He’s also secretly loathed by his head of security, Morris (Ray Stevenson).
What follows is a breezy cat-and-mouse adventure that is unafraid to address the daftness of its own premise. Helander’s evidently a student of 80s and 90s action cinema, and keen to reference some of the cheesier movies of that era; Rennie Harlin’s Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger are but two examples.
Helander’s tendency to mix up his genre references also makes for some truly unique and unexpected scenarios. One sequence, where Jackson’s driven on a little tractor through a forest on a starry night, is one of the most bizarre twists on a famous scene from E.T. I can think of. Another sequence appears to be an extended joke at the expense of an infamous sequence from Spielberg’s Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.
Big Game is often rough around the edges, with some awkward dialogue and variable CG effects, but it’s also keenly framed by cinematographer Mika Orasmaa, who brings a grand sense of scale to the chilly Finnish locations. What makes Big Game so entertaining is the chemistry and enthusiasm of its cast, with Samuel L Jackson gamely sending up his imperious screen persona as a lily-livered US President, and Mehmet Kurtulus as an amusingly urbane (if one-dimensional) bad guy with a predilection for leather, beards and rocket launchers.
There’s also a pleasing subtext about the myth of masculinity, and how things like strength and bravery are just an act put on by adults who are all still just big kids at heart. Less bloody and excessive than most 90s-referencing action films of recent years, Big Game satisfies as a light-hearted boy’s-own adventure – and, seemingly, a gentle parody of recent action films as Olympus Has Fallen.
Throw in some small yet fun supporting performances from Ted Levine and Jim Broadbent (respectively playing a US army general and a CIA guy who watch helplessly from the Pentagon as they lose the president “like a set of car keys”), and you have the makings of a simple yet thoroughly entertaining movie.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Big Game will garner something of a cult following in years to come; its arrival in UK cinemas currently in thrall to Marvel’s latest blockbuster may mean that, ticket sales to a few connoisseurs of the strange aside, Big Game will end up being drowned out by all the Avengers fanfare. Our advice? Get ahead of the curve and track a screening of Big Game down. That way, you’ll get to see an unusual, likeably absurd and good-looking action flick a good few months before it’s ‘rediscovered’ on DVD.
Big Game is out in UK cinemas on the 8th May.
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