In the suburbs of Helsinki live Raimo and his wife, a middle class couple whose liberal views will be put to the test when new neighbors move in next door. Raimo thinks himself the picture of progressive acceptance—he gives time to activists proselytizing on the streets, he speaks up in favor of refugees to his paranoid nationalist neighbor—but when affable satanists enter his life, Raimo is not…so accommodating. Teemu Niukkanen’s F**king Bunnies is an absurd comedy about a “normal” man pushed too far and the limits of tolerance, but aside from its themes, it is also just a guaranteed good time. With a flawless comedy craft, the film is hilariously entertaining, and a standout of the genre.
Writer/director Niukkanen and co-writer Antti Toivonen are seasoned filmmakers in the commercial world, but like so many professionals, a desire to work on something more authentic to their creativity called to them. F**king Bunnies was the result, and while it has high-minded satirical elements, making the audience laugh was their first and foremost goal—the deeper themes emerged when the writing process had already begun.
“One should never underestimate the power of silliness.”
Niukkanen nails all the comedic requirements. The screenplay itself is incredibly strong, witty and creates a situation that is, from the beginning, very funny. We get a few initial jokes showcasing Raimo, living in a building referred to as “public housing”, somewhat smugly espousing open-mindedness to a succession of neighbors, before Raimo’s own permissiveness is tested with the arrival of his new neighbors. Awkwardness, which is, in my opinion, an essential aspect of comedy, is very much present throughout, but is put on steroids as Maki introduces himself, in full painted face, the symbol of the antichrist emblazoned on his forehead.
The central joke, often repeated, but never losing its effectiveness, is that Maki is a great guy. Yes, he named his son “Pasi” (which he informs Raimo is “pussy” in English), and yes he holds late night orgies, and tortures slaves (consensually though!), but Maki is warm, polite, and gives solid advice. A suburban devil-worshipping sex cult is on the surface offensive, but it’s hard to object to their manner or neighborliness!
Raimo cannot overcome his initial prejudice though, and his escalating reactions drive him to psychological torment. The pacing and score of the film go hand in hand with the lead’s deteriorating state of mind. Jouko Puolanto (Raimo) and Janne Reinikainen (Maki) shine in their performances, as the inner bubbling of hate consumes Puolanto’s character, while Reinikainen’s casual ability to flip between the most absurd or normal lines with a straight face is one of the integral part to making the film work.
Not only is the film wonderful comedy, it is also a very creative take on xenophobia and prejudice in a suburban neighborhood dynamic. While Raimo struggles at getting acquainted to his new neighbors, his wife makes friends quite easily. His fear and lack of acceptance leads him to having an internal discourse not unlike the ones of extremely racist people, parroting familiar objections (think of the property values!). While I’m not convinced I would welcome Maki and his satanist clan warmly in my home, given the absurdity of the setting, it is a funny conundrum that makes you do a double take when analyzing your own feelings. Ultimately Raimo’s wife confronts him on his double standards in a fun send-up of conversations in white liberal spheres everywhere. I appreciated the laughs, but also found it fascinating to touch on such a complex topic through a comedic lens.
We caught F**king Bunnies at the 2017 edition of Sundance where it was an audience favorite, and are more than pleased to see it finally available online. Fans of Scandinavian films certainly, but comedy fan at large will surely appreciate the lightheartedness of this Jussi Award (Finnish Film Foundation) nominated film.