Filmmakers Aleksi Hyvärinen and Taneli Mustonen Talk English-Language Debut, The Twin

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The Finnish Weird Wave is an unofficial trend in horror cinema from the country, similar to the American talk of ‘elevated horror’ movies or the New French Extremity movement, and is an interesting phenomenon to follow for genre fans of cinephiles. The past five or six years have seen a variety of these critically acclaimed and often disturbing films, from Dogs Don’t Wear Pants to the recent Hatching. Most of these are directed by people who grew up in the ’80s in Finland during a time when films were heavily censored, when home media wasn’t readily available and kids spoke in hushed tones about banned horror movies.

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Many of these kids sought out the violent, scary movies anyway, because prohibition creates desire (the inherent paradox of all censorship). Tapes would be mailed from America and passed around, and independent cinemas would try to find whatever reels they could in order to quietly play the films, bloodcurdling horror screams aside. As such, the Finnish Weird Wave is almost a thought experiment – what would American horror cinema look like if it went through a prolonged period of censorship, in a country with a notoriously dark winter and many days of absolute night?

Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen on Growing Up With Censored Horror

The horror films of Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen largely answer that question, because they lived it. “It was a crazy time during the ’80s,” Mustonen says, “lots of censorship in Finland. We couldn’t see the films, especially horror films from the ’70s and ’80s. We couldn’t see them.” Mustonen was fortunate enough to be part of a family who owned a couple of small movie theaters, where he was able to see a few films, but for the most part, the two had to get creative. “Basically we had this pen pal club,” he continues, describing the youthful passion for cinema in an endearing way any great directors would relate to:


You would write and wish for great horror films, and you send empty VHS tapes at the time. If you’re lucky, you get wonderful films like Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death or The Changeling, a huge influence for us, a wonderful Peter Medak film. Just the idea that these films are banned, or if they were ever shown they are censored and mutilated. So just to see them raw, and you gather your friends in a room and just dim the light and enjoy the film, it definitely had a huge impact for me growing up […] there were so many elements that, as a young kid when you see them at 13 or 14, that imagery and those stories really stay with you, and they were huge influences for us.

Hyvärinen agrees, and not only had similar experiences but also retains a similar youthful passion for the excitement of horror carried over from his childhood. “I think it’s very much about kind of growing into that experience, having those first experiences of seeing a horror film,” he says, “of feeling those emotions and getting scared together in a cinema with just absolute strangers around you. I think that’s something that we really wanted to try and be able to do.” Horror is a part of these men’s DNA; they remember the first time they saw Nosferatu or The Other like some people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot.

The Twin Puts Teresa Palmer in an Atmosphere of Dread

They had a big hit with Lake Bodom and have now made their English-language debut with The Twin. Writer/director Mustonen co-wrote the film with producer Hyvärinen, and have again made a uniquely Finnish interpretation of American horror with a film about a bereaved mother named Rachel, played deliriously by Teresa Palmer (who carried the horror of the great Lights Out and headlines A Discovery of Witches). After the loss of one of her sons, her husband Anthony (played by Steven Cree, also from A Discovery of Witches and a lot of British television) takes her and their surviving son back to his hometown for some solace and healing. Of course, instead of healing, there are just more nightmares.

Related: Hatching Review: A Horrific Tale of Body Dysmorphia

The paranoid, twisty film is a loving homage to some classic horror movies (Don’t Look Now and the aforementioned The Changeling, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death prominently come to mind) but in a distinctly Finnish way, and with the unique touch of the filmmakers. Mustonen and Hyvärinen have a long working relationship and truly understand each other, making comedies and dramas throughout their careers but ultimately loving horror more than the rest. Like their influences, they attempt to build an atmosphere of dread surrounding Rachel’s existential angst rather than something more visceral and blood-soaked. As Mustonen says:

I’ll try to say this politely, but I think there are so many horror films nowadays that’s only about creating jump scares or throwing buckets of blood and so forth. And in those masterpieces, those masters of horror from the ’70s and ’80s, they really worked hard on building complex characters, and I think that it makes those movies stand out […] We wrote the script like we would write a drama, so everything is about the character, and that’s how we always start. Especially in horror, the more you get people invested emotionally to the character, in this case, Rachel, the more enjoyable and exciting the whole thing is going to be. We really worked hard, we didn’t want to cheat the audience in any way.

The Twin Turns Mourning Into Terror

After the success of Lake Bodom, Hyvärinen and Mustonen were invited to workshop a new script after a South Korean film festival, and the new parents tapped into their deepest fears. As such, The Twin is a study of “what grief can do to you as a mourning mother,” as Mustonen says.

Related: These Are the Best Original Shudder Movies on the Horror Streaming Channel

“Both of us are parents and bothers,” Hyvärinen adds, “and we spend a lot of time talking about what could be our worst fears, like the ultimate fears you can have. And when you get kids, you know, it changes a lot.” Teresa Palmer is also a parent, and so the film was like a cathartic exercise in which several parents tapped into the ultimate fears of parenthood and tried to imagine the emotional horror of what that would entail. Hyvärinen continues:

One thing that sticks to us is the worry or kind of the fear of something happening to your child, and how you always wish for everything to be well, and that’s something that is a huge change in your psychology, and also the ultimate fear of anything bad happening to your child is just the worst thing. I think that was the starting point, and also a notion in many horror films that is used as a starting point or setup for the story. There are great movies about it, but we also wanted to make sure that our story really dives into it and explores it further, not only as setup, but really the whole story is about that. It’s about handling grief, how it affects you, how it basically messes you and your family up.

Not only is The Twin different by focusing entirely on the horrors of this grief, but also by virtue of its cultural specificity and unique setting in a rather isolated Finnish winter. The small town that Rachel and her family go to stay in is soaked with Finnish heritage, pagan symbolism, and the residue of rituals long gone. The fact that it’s an English-language film cleverly incorporates this idea of encountering ‘otherness,’ a strange foreign society that most horror fans are unfamiliar with but should enjoy greatly. Despite all the censorship (or perhaps because of it), Finland is particularly well-suited to scary movies.


Finnish Weird Wave and Nordic Horror

There’s been a fascination with not just the Finnish Weird Wave but with the setting of these countries recently, from films like Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Robert Eggers’ The Northman, along with the massive popularity of Nordic noir shows and movies, which are frequently remade into American adaptations, such as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing, and Let the Right One In. Mustonen muses as to why:

These wonderful filmmakers [now realize that] there’s something in the Nordics. There’s a reason, we live in total darkness for like seven months, and there’s a reason why we have a peculiar taste in music, with black metal. Suddenly, there were people around the world who felt that there really is a thing with that Nordic flair or Nordic strange, and it has a lot to do with the fact that we live quite isolated. There’s only a brief summer, and then we have to deal with the harsh elements of nature […] there’s a common joke among us Nordics that you guys, you worry about traffic jams, and we have to worry about wolves and, occasionally, even dragons.

The haunting, atmospheric setting of The Twin, combined with its acute examination of grief, a devoted Teresa Palmer performance, and the cinephile passion of horror lovers Mustonen and Hyvärinen, all make The Twin a strong entry in recent Finnish and international horror movies. Produced by Don Films, The Twin is now streaming on Shudder and is also available on-demand and in select theaters. You can find out more information here.


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