I thought I had seen it all.
The Milwaukee Film Festival’s Cinema Hooligante program—a safe haven for fans of the scary, gory, wacky, and downright strange films collected from all the dark corners of the world—first sucked me in two years ago at my first festival. I won a competition on Facebook and was presented with two free tickets to see a movie called We Are What We Are. I’d never heard of it, and was excited at the prospect of seeing a movie at midnight.
From then on, I was hooked. Hooligante quickly became my favorite program, and I make it a point to see at least one, if not many, films from the lineup. Last year, I waited in line for a midnight showing of the film Wetlands, promised a fun, disgusting time, and I was not disappointed. There is something so comforting about gagging in solidarity with a hundred other people at the same time.
This year, my expectations were high. I was told that the film They Have Escaped, from Finland, was THE film to see, and that the less I knew about it going in, the better. I couldn’t turn down a statement like that. Finland is a country that holds a special place in my heart, and I was looking forward to seeing what a film from this country would be like, especially in the Hooligante program. Boy, was I surprised! They Have Escaped is one of the most jarring and unique theatrical experiences I have had all year, and will probably have all of my life.
Because what I was told was true—that the less you know going in, the better—I will keep the premise brief and a bit vague. Joni, a young man who can’t be much older than his early twenties, gets assigned to work at a halfway house as a part of his alternative military service. He quickly strikes up a close relationship with Raisa, a fiery (and loud) resident of the house. She tells him about a treasure she had buried a long time ago, and the two take off through the forest. What works about this film is it sets you up to have a certain expectation of its tone. Surveying the audience members seated around me, I noted that by the midpoint, most of them had shuffled down in their seats, arms folded, comfortable but still interested in the movie. At the end, everyone was seated up and at attention, and were leaning forward, trying to comprehend.
They Have Escaped sets you up to believe a film will go one way, and happily pulls the rug out from under you. And then it keeps going.
A short four-minute film called Primrose, which sets the feature up nicely in turns of tone, precedes the film. I enjoyed this short just as much as I did the feature, as both of them go to a place you aren’t quite expecting. My friend actually gasped at the end of both films, which pleased me to no end. I personally love when audiences get so involved in a film that they just can’t help but interact with the screen. My favorite kinds of films are the experiences, the ones that you will remember for the rest of your life. I can gladly say that this film joins that rank.
They Have Escaped is recommended for anyone looking for a film that’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. There is only one more screening of the film at the Milwaukee Film Festival, on Thursday, October 1st at 10 PM, playing at the Avalon Atmospheric Theater. This movie is not the kind that Milwaukee gets very frequently. The chances of it returning to a screen near you are unlikely. Go and buy your tickets now. Thank me later.