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Priest of Evil DVD Review

Priest of Evil (Harjunpää ja pahan pappi) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Priest of Evil (Harjunpää & pahan pappi)

Finnish Theatrical Release: October 29, 2010 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Olli Saarela / Writers: Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (original novel), Leo Viirret (screenplay)

Cast: Peter Franzén (Detective Timo Juhan Harjunpää), Irina Björklund (Elisa Harjunpää), Sampo Sarkola (Marko Johannes Heino), Jenni Banerjee (Detective Onerva Nykänen), Rosa Salomaa (Pauliina Harjunpää), Niilo Syväoja (Matti), Jorma Tommila (Matias Krankke), Ville Virtanen (Lieutenant Mäki), Tommi Korpela (Kengu), Maria Järvenhelmi (Cessi), Petri Manninen (Johanneksen Neighbor), Kalle Holmberg (Lecturer), Ville Saksela (Jere Maastola), Inka Kallén (Jaana Yasin), Reino Nordin (Skini), Saga Sarkola (Emmi Harjunpää), Jari Hietanen (Jari)

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (Finnish)
Subtitles: English; Not Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
DVD Release Date: May 28, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.97
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Clear Keepcase

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Based on what makes it over here and what is remade for English-speaking moviegoers, it seems like Northern Europe specializes in dark mystery thrillers. Insomnia. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Let the Right One In.

The Finnish film Priest of Evil (Harjunpää & pahan pappi) adds to that tradition,
although it lacks the exposure and impact that an American remake entails. Released to Finland's theaters in October 2010 and screened a week later at the American Film Market, this drama evidently did not secure wide North American distribution. It finally premieres on Region 1 DVD next Tuesday as an unusual import of Shout! Factory.

As indicated by its Finnish title, Priest of Evil belongs to a franchise, the center of which has been nearly a dozen crime novels by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, a criminal investigator himself who passed away suddenly in 2011. The experiences of Joenssuu's hero, Helsinki police detective Timo Harjunpää, were adapted into four Finnish television series spanning from the early 1980s to a 2007 miniseries. Priest of Evil is the second feature film adaptation, arriving seventeen years later with no creative ties to the previous film.

Something in this Helsinki Underground train station catches the eye of Detective Timo Harjunpää (Peter Franzén) in the 2010 Finnish thriller "Priest of Evil."

Priest opens on an ordinary night in which the hard-working Timo (Peter Franzén) is late to pick up the elder of his two teenaged daughters from a rock concert. The 15-year-old is seemingly raped and definitely murdered, an incident which still haunts both of her parents two years later. Timo is in a funk professionally and is barely speaking with his wife Elisa (Irina Björklund), who blames him for what happened. Torn between the two, surviving daughter Pauliina (Rosa Salomaa) sympathizes more with her father, uncomfortable with her mother finding solace in the Christian faith.

Timo's superiors are growing impatient with his habitual tardiness and unreliable performance, which put him closer than he realizes to a leave of absence. Meanwhile, he and his partner (Jenni Banerjee) are investigating a few grisly deaths from the platforms of an Underground train station that at first glance look like suicides. In fact, they are murders with enough in common to suggest a sociopathic serial killer.

On the side of his paid forensic procedural duties, Timo cannot let go of his daughter's murder and is on the scene when her young assailant is released after serving an incredibly short jail sentence. Timo Harjunpää isn't exactly a by-the-book cop, which puts his reputation, his marriage, and his daughter's supposed killer on the line, as he gives in to urges on spontaneous foot chases, heated car rides, and furious tirades.

Never trust a blonde bookstore shopper (Sampo Sarkola) with substantial facial bruises. The relationship between Mrs. Harjunpää (Irina Björklund) and her redheaded surviving teenage daughter Pauliina (Rosa Salomaa) is strained.

Foreign films certainly get a little leeway when viewed by someone who doesn't speak the language. When you need to read subtitles to understand what is being said, it becomes difficult to detect false notes and shaky acting. That little bit of distance misses out on the business of the masses who refuse to read a movie, but it gives boosts of credibility and artistry for open-minded viewers.
Think about it. You could take a random mediocre episode of any "CSI" series, change the language to one you don't speak, display English subtitles and it would suddenly seem a lot more powerful, creative, and special than it previously did.

There's probably an element of that to Priest of Evil, a film I enjoyed more than its lowly 5.9 average IMDb rating suggested I would. That score is determined by fewer than 1,000 voters and almost all of them outside the US, presumably Europeans more likely to recognize deficiencies or have a clearer frame of reference by which to compare this to similar productions. Admittedly, my frame of reference doesn't extend much further than both the original Nordic versions and American remakes of the films I listed in the opening paragraph. I would place Priest of Evil in the same league as most of those, but I don't have too much to say beyond that.

This is different from the American films I see in much greater abundance. The crime scenes are graphic and gratuitous. Violent rape isn't nearly as taboo as it is in American cinema (Fincher's Dragon Tattoo remake, excluded). For that matter, religion doesn't seem to be as touchy a topic either, though despite its sensationalist title, Priest is careful not to make its creepy, devout villain a typical representative of the Christian faith. The good characters are relatable and sympathetic. The mystery is involving. Big on shaky handheld visuals and cross-cutting, the execution is as polished as it should be for someone who's been directing since the late 1990s, as Olli Saarela has been.


The DVD's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is satisfactory for standard definition. Sharpness, detail, and colors are all adequate. The element stays clean. The only problem I spotted was a little shimmering in transitional long shots, the noticeability of which will entirely depend on your screen and set-up.

One of Shout! Factory's worst characteristics is that they almost never includes subtitles on DVD. Gladly, they budge from that position to present Priest of Evil exclusively in its original Finnish in Dolby Digital 5.1 along with optional player-generated English subtitles. The sound mix is good and the subtitles are as well.

The Finnish title "Harjunpää & pahan pappi" seen here in the included trailer translates to "Harjunpää & the Priest of Evil." Timo takes the escalator down to the Underground train station platform on Shout! Factory's Priest of Evil DVD main menu.


The only extra is a subtitled Finnish trailer for the film (1:53).

The main menu plays scored clips in a window next to the cover art. Submenus are static but scored.

The reverse side of the cover displays additional artwork on the inside of the insert-free clear keepcase.

Can't a cop like Timo (Peter Franzén) just kill the kid who killed his daughter? This guy really wants people to look at his slideshow of personal photos!


There's a very thin line separating Finland's obscure Priest of Evil from Sweden's sequel-and-remake-spawning international blockbuster The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Priest doesn't have as strong a mystery or as incendiary storytelling, but it is a gripping, competent dark mystery in its own right. It warrants a viewing, though I doubt many will give it that, even as Shout! Factory's basic but upstanding Region 1 DVD release makes that plenty possible and pretty easy.

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Reviewed May 22, 2013.

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