Rendel – Dark Vengeance (Cert 15)

1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Universal Pictures/4Digital Media) Running Time: 101 minutes approx.

Breaking news – Hollywood no longer has the monopoly on films involving masked crime fighters as Finland has thrown its hat into the ring with this dark and violent creation.

In the fictional city of Mikkeli stands a lone crusader hiding in the darkness waiting for criminals to pounce so he can mete out his own brand of violent justice. His first target is the group working for Jarno Erola (Rami Rusinen), the sociopathic son of corrupt business magnate (Matti Onnismaa). His company VALA is trying to bring a dangerous vaccine into Finland against government’s order, killing anybody standing in their way.

When financial director Rämö (Kris Gummerus) is fired from his job after refusing VALA representative Kurikka’s (Tero Salenius) offer to invest in the vaccine, he find himself accepts a job offer from Kurikka working for VALA. Being in charge of the books, Rämö discovers the shady dealings of the company which puts his life and that of his family in jeopardy, when the shipments of the vaccine are constantly thwarted.

Deciphering the plot of Rendel isn’t so easy because of how it is played, and keeping it spoiler free is even harder for the same reason. Writer-director Jesse Haaja has all the elements in place for a perfectly enjoyable superhero yarn that is more Punisher than Spider-Man, and keeps the audience on its toes with a curious narrative that eventually reveal itself to be flashbacks and current timeline intertwined.

For that reason, not revealing vital twists whilst recapping the plot is extremely difficult, despite it being an effective way to ensure their impact when finally brought to light. Another negative is that analysing these developments also exposes the plot holes that leave more questions than answers. Once it becomes clear this is an origin story, do we applaud Haaja for his inventiveness of curse him for trying to be too clever?

Providing examples of why this is detrimental to the integrity of the story is equally problematic, although keen eyed viewers will have noticed the subtle – and not so subtle – clues hidden in plain sight. Little things like Rämö being called a “hero” by his daughter Enni (Roosamaria Mäkinen) and his cool-looking biker jacket Father’s Day gift are the easiest; others require a little more context.

There are essentially three stories running concurrently here – Rämö inadvertently being caught up in VALA’s criminal activities, the interference by the masked man later known as Rendel, and the deteriorating relationship between Jarno and his father. Jarno, a long bearded, trigger happy, dyspeptic nutter is the polar opposite of his urbane, calculating father.

Jarno’s attempts to fix Rendel continue to backfire, making him more hot headed than usual with his minions and anyone within shooting distance. Quite how the police haven’t done anything about Jarno’s egregious public killings is on major plot niggle but it does raise a titter when a karaoke singer is disturbing his conversation in one scene.

We should supposedly feel something for Jarno when his father repeatedly tells him to his face that he was his “biggest mistake”, but Jarno is so relentlessly disregarding of other life forms we are unable to muster even the slightest sympathy for him. Although when two buffoon lackeys mistake the instruction to “take care” of a victim and take him to hospital instead of burying him, maybe Jarno has a point.  

Such levity is welcome amidst the brutality presented whenever Rendel hits the scene, proving as ruthless as Jarno and his comrades. Dressed head to toe in thick black leather with an intimidating black mask (the creation of which is both inventive yet odd under the circumstances), Rendel not only looks the part but acts it too, employing hard hitting combat skills with deft gymnastic defences and wanton use of anything to hand.

As impressive as this is however, we just have to look at the man behind the mask and wonder where these skills came from since he hitherto showed no such physical prowess under any circumstance. A minor detail for many, including who the mysterious blonde muse in the sheer black dress (Alina Tomnikov) accompanying him on his missions is or how reporter Niina Heikkinen (Minna Nevanoja) keeps conveniently showing up too.

Yet for all these annoying oversights and cavils, there is an earnestness to Rendel that keeps it afloat. It is very well shot; aping the familiar tableaux, aesthetics, and rhythms of the genre with enough of the Scandi grit we’ve come to admire from the BBC4 crime dramas to feel fresh. It stumbles a little by bringing in a group of mercenaries to counter Rendel from across the globe, all of whom fall easily to him bar one yet the fights are different and brutal enough.

This international cadre all speak English which isn’t subtitled on this DVD release which is not only a setback for us heard-of-hearing viewers but even for able hearing folk too, as they either whisper or mumble behind their thick accents, with the lousy sound mix also culpable in obscuring the dialogue. Thankfully they fight better than they speak.

On the whole, the cast throw themselves into their roles with the same gravity as if they were in an aforementioned Nordic Noir drama avoiding accusations of being a pastiche or homage. Rami Rusinen borders on being a cartoon villain as Jarno yet his modernity as an entitled, drug addled thug gives the Joker a run for his money. Kris Gummerus brings plenty of emotion and grounding to offset this as Rämö, but the real star is the big dude behind the mask.

News update – Hollywood may not need to panic just yet but Rendel packs enough of an exciting action packed punch that Finland could have their own hit superhero franchise. A mid-credits sequence hints at a sequel which, with a tighter script, might be worth looking out for. If you want an antidote from DC and Marvel’s excess, Rendel just might be it.

 

Extras:

Finnish Language 2.0

English Language 2.0

English Subtitles

 

Rating – *** 

Man In Black