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Parenthood, Paganism and Packs of Wolves: A Conversation With the “TWIN” Filmmakers

Friday, May 6, 2022 | Interviews


As teens, Taneli Mustonen and Aleksi Hyvärinen were international VHS horror smugglers. As adults, they’re bringing their nation’s pagan heritage to cinematic life; their latest feature, the highly affecting, disquieting supernatural occult family drama THE TWIN, hits theaters, VOD/digital and Shudder today (go here to watch the movie or find a theater).

In the Finland of Mustonen and Hyvärinen’s youth, where horror films were treated as contraband, you had to become something of a low-key outlaw to get your hands on the ghostly Gothics and splatter platters stocked at virtually every North American video store. “During the ’80s and early ’90s, we would literally send blank VHS tapes along with our wish lists to friends abroad just to have any hope of seeing a horror film,” Mustonen tells RUE MORGUE. “But in a way, all that effort and waiting made the experience so much more special. Sometimes you’d get a package with a gem you’d never heard of stuffed in it, and you just knew your mind was about to be blown. I mean–imagine this!–one of our favorite horror films, LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, just fell into our hands as young teenagers, opening the world up for us in totally new and thrilling ways. And is there a better, scarier, more profound way to see a movie like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE than on a crappy VHS tape you’re not supposed to have in a darkened room? The impact of those encounters was huge.”

Soon, running that gauntlet–and the deeper level of appreciation of dark cinema it instilled–nudged the childhood-friends-turned-creative-collaborators onto the long, winding road toward telling their own horror stories, which began with camcorders and continues to this day with feature films such as 2016’s topnotch slasher LAKE BODOM, and, now THE TWIN.

Directed by Mustonen from a script co-written with Hyvärinen, THE TWIN harks back not only to films such as THE OMEN and ROSEMARY’S BABY but also to the pre-Internet, pre-European Union Finland of the ’80s. It nestles the story of a family mourning the loss of one of their (yes) twin sons in a remote, isolated and–to them–unfamiliar village where the pagan past, to paraphrase Faulkner, isn’t dead but not even past, and an ancient darkness on the edge of town threatens their surviving son. “The joke here has always been, people abroad may have to worry about running into traffic jams on the way to work, while we have to worry about running into packs of wolves,” Mustonen laughs.

The duo were kind enough to speak with RUE MORGUE about THE TWIN, Finland’s unique and separate culture and the power of horror to transcend national boundaries as well as genres.

As a parent of two kids, I always wonder how differently a film where a child dies or is in danger hits for people without kids–it’s almost as if I can’t recall my past, pre-parent viewing experiences. Are the two of you parents?


I’m curious if, from a storytelling perspective, part of the reason you wanted to explore these characters and themes was to grapple with your own fears?

MUSTONEN: Absolutely. We’ve been writing together for about 10 or 15 years, running a production company here in Helsinki, Finland. One day we were at the office discussing how the loss of a child is such a profound fear many of us share, but in cinema it’s typically just used as backstory or a setup. We thought it deserved more than that. In fact, we really wanted to explore that ultimate fear in a much deeper way and make that the whole essence. So that is the ultimate motivation behind this story.

And in THE TWIN, as the title suggests, there is another child: the surviving brother. What’s interesting about that is, even without trauma, children just seem closer to the unseen, the supernatural. There are invisible friends, of course, but you’ll also catch them observing things that you as a parent cannot see. And how you, as a parent, process that is all about context: If everything is going well and peacefully, you’ll accept it as imagination and play. But if the context is not peaceful, or caught up in death or trauma as in your film, the perception will be darker. To me, THE TWIN rather beautifully captures this struggle the adults must undertake to get back to the perspective–or to the innocence–of their child in order to understand what is happening to their family—and hopefully survive it. 

ALEKSI HYVÄRINEN: That definitely hits the nail on the head. No matter how cute and lovely your kids are, I think almost every parent probably has those little moments in the lives of their children in which they think, “Wow, that is super-creepy!” [Laughs] So, that idea was fascinating to us as we follow [the bereaved mother] Rachel [Teresa Palmer] down a sort of rabbit hole: What is real? What is true? What is in her mind? What is the reverberation of grief? What is tied to the ancient paganism of the place? At the same time, we wanted the film to reflect the aspect of parenthood in which you’re constantly trying to figure out if you are a good parent or not–that worry that arises when you have your first child and, at least according to my own day, never leaves you again.

MUSTONEN: This is why we decided early on to write the film as a drama rather than use this kind of tragic loss as an excuse to, say, get the family in a haunted house and jump-scare the living daylights out of everyone. We wanted to make it feel real.

So much of that reality depends on the naturalistic, harrowing performances by your cast–especially Teresa Palmer, who is just stunning.

MUSTONEN: Yes, totally. Teresa, from the jump, from when she first read the script, straight through preproduction and the actual shoot, really understood what we were after. In fact, I think it’s fair to say she understood the character better than we did in most ways. And she, too, is a parent herself. So Teresa was a huge asset to this film. It’s hard to imagine it without her. She’s in every scene, basically, and it’s through her that we, as an audience, see this world.

Also, though this feels extremely clichéd to say, the setting also serves as its own character. Do you feel that? Or is that me reading too much into the film because I’ve never been to Finland and the film thus feels otherworldly?

MUSTONEN: No, it’s very much by design, and a way to put the main character–and, by extension, the audience–into a pressure cooker. We all slowly boil together. Emotionally, we start from a place where every second, you have to live with the spitting image of your son. And physically you’re plunged into almost this completely different universe where you don’t really know what’s real and what’s not.

HYVÄRINEN: Finland, until relatively recently, was a closed society. So I do think things that are buried deep culturally in other places are much closer to the surface here. We have an idea of how thin this current layer of civilization is. You know, Finland is now Christian, but it hasn’t been for very long—just a couple of hundred years, really. We have a rich pagan history full of crazy stories and ancient gods that are part of our heritage.  We grew up with this; our folklore and pagan myths are taught in school. And it was such a wonderful experience to go back to those stories and reflect on how they impacted us and the way we view nature and civilization and the spirits of the forest and…everything. So much stems from this.

Was it also a cool experience to capture and translate some of that aspect of Finnish culture for a global audience?

MUSTONEN: Totally. Of course, we feel such pride in being Finnish filmmakers and coming from this country that has such a rich culture that is just constructed differently from what most people around the world are used to. So it is definitely cool. You know, everything has changed hugely, obviously, but there are still  these weird, strange villages that have their own ways of life and sets of rules. As horror fans first and foremost, in THE TWIN we wanted to explore and celebrate that as well.