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Saturday, 10 October 2015

Shopping Tour (2012)...."It’ll cost you an arm and a leg …"

Written and directed by: Mikhail Brashinsky

Cast: Tatyana Kolganova, Timofey Yeletsky

Genre: horror | Year: 2012 | Cert: 15 [TBC] | Country: Russia

Language: Russian / Finnish with English subtitles | Running Time: 70 minutes

Released in the UK on DVD and VOD - 26 October 2015

It's not often that I'm lost for words, but this week I was indeed momentarily at a loss for something to say. A few days ago I received an email from the wonderfully named Sharp Teeth Films asking me if I'd like to watch a soon to be released film, Shopping Tour, which features Finnish cannibals feasting on an unsuspecting group of Russian tourists in a paranoid, satirical horror comedy. Blimey, I thought to myself, that’s not the sort of request one gets every day - well not in the legal sense of the word anyway. Naturally I felt the need to investigate further, I needed more information, I needed more details…… I needed a synopsis. And so the good people at Sharp Teeth Films provided me with one.

….."Unlucky Russian tourists get more than they bargain for, when their shopping trip to Finland turns into a fight for survival. According to ancient Finnish tradition, Summer Solstice marks the one day a year when locals eat foreigners …......Part social satire, part survival horror recalling Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, with a topical mix of underlying themes including xenophobia, immigration panic, consumerism and personal morality."

Now there are very few things that I would say that I hate, life is just too damn short to waste time on such an extreme and often destructive emotion. All too often people overuse the word 'hate' with such abandon and ill-thought out considerations of what the actual implications could be for others. However, if someone was to tie me down (as it were) and demand to know some of my personal pet hates then a few things would spring to mind. Firstly Pistachio nut shells that don't open, despite near breaking a finger nail in the attempt - I hate those bastards with a passion. In a very close second on the list would be the super sized shopping store or mall, god don't get me started on those soul-sucking creations with their insipid background music, pseudo-psychological methods to get you to buy stuff that you simply don't need and the endless fast food areas with each and every one of them attempting to take you on that one way train to heart attack city. In terms of film styles, there's little that I hate, but there is much I dislike - for instance the found-footage style has never found it's shaky hand held way onto my personal Christmas card list.

All this meant that it was doubtful whether Shopping Tour would viewed with a semblance of appreciation even before I watched it, because it contains two of the three aforementioned pet hates (Spoiler alert; there are no Pistachios in this film). So would I actually enjoy a film that combines shopping stores and a found footage style of filming? Well do you know something? I really did.

This Russian/Finnish horror comedy is the child creation of Mikhail Brashinsky, who not only wrote, directed, produced and edited the project, but he probably helped to sweep the floors and fetch drinks too. Now I don't profess an in-depth knowledge of Russian-Finnish relations and attitudes, but it seems quite clear from the outset that Brashinsky is quite keen to find amusement in the obsession that many Russians seem still to have after the advent of communism with what they regard as their more sophisticated consumerist western neighbours. At the same time there is also a constant undercurrent of commentary on the contemporary hot social topic of immigration and the xenophobia that often accompanies it.

Shopping Tour was shot on a tiny budget of $70,000 over a period of just 11 days and has already been the winner of Critics’ Prize, Best Female Performance and Grand-Prix at the Russian National Film Festival ‘Window to Europe’ and the Special Jury Prize at the Polar Lights International Film Festival in St. Petersburg. A popular film on the international film festival circuit, screening at Sitges International Festival of Fantastic Cinema, Gothenburg International Film Festival and Torino International Film Festival.

The first act of the film sees a young teenage boy, played by Timofey Yeletsky who is reluctantly accompanying his mother, played by the delectable Tatyana Kolganova, on a short coach trip across the border from Russia to Finland. It is quite clear from the outset that the boy has a perpetual sulk on with life, particularly as his father has recently died and seemingly resents his mother for their situation. Matters are made even worse for his state of mood when his mother confesses that the coach trip is simply to visit some of the seemingly more affluent and superior shopping malls that the Finns have to offer. So in order to reduce his boredom, he decides to film all that he sees on his mobile phone camera. This first section of the film is where Brashinsky is clearly having fun with pastiching the notion of Russian perceptions of feeling less cultured and advanced in regard to consumerist opportunities. An early favourite scene is where every passenger on the bus has to remove all luggage and submit themselves to very personal border checks , all in the name of shopping. 

This impressionable innocence of the Russian shoppers is soon further exploited when they are given news by their guide that a brand spanking new mega store in Southern Finland has agreed to open up especially for them. So the tired but desperate shoppers are dropped off in the middle of Finnish nowhere and stumble into this sparkling new store... However it soon becomes clear that it's not technological consumer goods that will be on the shopping list, but the consumers themselves as the Russians are attacked by bloodthirsty and flesh eating Finnish employees. The shoppers need to get out of the store and they need to do it before they die a grizzly death. We've all been there.

The final third of Shopping Tour is a fast paced adrenaline ride as the mother and son try to outwit and outrun the flesh eating locals who are equally intent on fulfilling their annual right to eat as many Russians as they can. Interposed within the frantic scenes there are some wonderful sections which wonderfully contrast the terror of the victims with the suburban normality of the Finns - the one scene involving the picnic with the local police and council members is simply a joy. The film's final scene is genuinely horrific and disquieting leaving the viewer with a picture that will stay in ones mind for some time.

Shopping Tour will not appeal to all facets of the horror community, but lets face it, what film ever does? There will undoubtedly be some who are put off by the hand held found footage style, especially some of the more frantic 'run away' moments which sees the picture bounce around to the point some may feel a little queasy at the effect it produces. The low budget also ensures that the film rarely shows too much in the way of gore which may disappoint those who like their high dosage quota of zombie blood and guts. Indeed, the film is quite clearly more of a chiller than a horror while the comedy is more considered than slapstick.

Are these major concerns and drawbacks? Well no, because what Mikhail Brashinsky has contrived to produce is a warm yet pointed commentary on social values and wraps it up in a very enjoyable slice of Zombie eating fun. 

On a totally unrelated note, I have the misfortune to visit a certain Scandinavian furniture store this weekend - now I know these are Swedes, not Finns, but one cannot be too careful. So I'm taking a big heavy cricket bat with me for protection. 

Sharp Teeth Films promises to bring a taste of the unusual to UK audiences via cinema, DVD and VOD releases. Our carefully curated line-up will include a mix of languages and genres, with a focus on stories that are provocative, distinctive and thought-provoking … films with ‘bite’. The first two releases are New York documentary Rubble Kings, highlighting the true story behind cult classic The Warriors and ‘holiday from hell’ horror Shopping Tour, a George Romero-inspired satire. You can find out more at their website

A little bit about director Mikhail Brashinsky:

"The first popular film critic in Russian cinema to turn to filmmaking, Mr. Brashinsky has made his debut with BLACK ICE (GOLOLED, 2003) which he wrote, directed and edited. It premiered at the Rotterdam Int’l Film Festival, was an Official Selection of the 2003 Berlinale, and received the New Directors Showcase Award at the Seattle Int’l Film Festival. Since then, Mr. Brashinsky has directed ANOMALOUS ZONE (ANOMALNAYA ZONA, 2003), an episode of The Killing Force, a hit TV-series for Russia’s Channel 1, TUNGUS METEORITE (TUNGUSSKYI METEORIT, 2008), a TV-pilot, and BLOOD TYPE (GRUPPA KROVI, 2006) a documentary on Russian Koreans. SHOPPING TOUR (2012), his second feature and his first effort as a producer, has received three major prizes at the Russian National Film Festival ‘Window to Europe’ in Vyborg, 2012 (Critics’ Prize, Best Female Performance, and Grand-Prix) and the Special Jury Prize at the Int’l Film Festival Polar Lights, 2012, St. Petersburg. It also screened at int’l film festivals in Helsinki, Turin, Gothenburg, Sitges, Budapest, Wiesbaden and Nashville.


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