Sauna is a dark, quiet ghost story set in a no-man's land between Finland and Russia after a long, bitter war in the year 1595. It's a desolate, swampy, wet, muddy, and grey world, and our main characters are tasked with the responsibility of working with each other to develop a new border between the two countries. Even in the quiet, mundane moments (of which there are virtually none), the tension is thick between these two camps as they travel through a vast, unknowable swamp better left behind by both countries.
When I began watching this movie, it sucked me in immediately. The acting is immense, and since there isn't a whole lot of dialogue, the subtitles weren't even the slightest bit distracting. A little bit in, my wife looked up after I made the comment that it looked like it was a WWI film and not something set at the end of the 16th century. She replied that she thought it was a WWI movie. In other words, if you're familiar with the staggering depression and oppression of movies set in the late 1910's, and that's your thing, Sauna too will likely be your thing.
Really though, Sauna shines when it comes to the menace it presents in the unknowable. The movie is scary enough in the first portion of the film as we follow the exploits of the surveyor teams and see how they would operate normally if freaky shit wasn't happening. It's in this first leg of the journey though that we see how haunted the characters really are. In the second portion of the film, when we're presented with the eponymous sauna house in a bizarre village in the exact center of this epic swampland (think the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings, but with more trees and less smiles and giggles). Never before has a dark doorway ever given me such a feeling of dread.
|After seeing Sauna, you will know why this is so scary.|
As far as playing the game goes, there are plenty of aspects of the story that just seem off and will easily put your characters on edge. They're little things like peasants that look too clean to be living in the middle of the swamp or that there are no children around that will throw your players into a fit with the mystery of it all. Games where players have to intentionally create a history and well-rounded (i.e. more than just combat stats) character are perfect for Sauna as you're going to need fodder to throw at your players. Dread (my perennial favorite) often presents stories where the plot forces characters to look long and hard at their character's fears and past mistakes.
Sauna is a great example of doing fantasy horror. The characters have swords, knives, and extremely primitive firearms. They still wear a bit of armor, and use torches everywhere for light. When I got this from Blockbuster, It was described as "transcendental" horror. A lofty claim, for sure, but one I believe Sauna lives up to.