Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Onni Tommila, Christian Ellefsen, Peeter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander
Imagine if Steven Spielberg and Stephen King got together to craft a coming-of-age Christmas horror movie. Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander imagined it for us and in doing so has gifted us with the best Christmas horror movie since Gremlins.
It’s so rare these days to see a motion picture that can be described as completely original, but then how many movies have been made based upon the Finnish legends of a Santa Claus that has more in common with the violent Robot Santa of “Futurama” than the one we sing carols about and leave out cookies and milk for on Christmas Eve?
The “Coca-Cola Santa” as young protagonist Pietari describes him is a lie. The real Santa of lore, Finnish lore, was a hairy, possibly horned, brutal ogre of a man. The being we’ve mass marketed as jolly ol’ Father Christmas bringing presents to children everywhere would rather spank unruly children… to pieces. This Santa only has a naughty list and Pietari desperately does not want to be on it.
It’s nearly Christmas Eve when strange things begin happening in and around the small Finnish village where ten-year-old Pietari and his single father reside. Nary a scene goes by that we aren’t treated to gorgeous Scandinavian winterscapes. This is also an odd film in that it has no female characters of note.
The strange things did not begin until Americans began excavating a nearby mountain, a mountain the raspy-voiced project overseer, his theatrical manner of speech somewhere between carnival barker and mad scientist, describes as the greatest burial mound ever constructed. Pietari also believes it to be Santa’s, much to the mockery of the best friend that still looks upon him as a mere baby and the scorn of his own father who’ll hear nothing of this rubbish. A naked old man found unconscious in a wolf trap, uncommunicative upon awakening other than to give Pietari sinister glances that would send a shiver down anyone’s spine, might make them reconsider.
The true triumph of Rare Exports is how seriously Helander treats his subject matter. It wouldn’t have taken much to turn this into a wacky comedy or some splatter-filled Troma-esque flick. Instead this is a class act all the way. Helander shows a deft hand taking the same route as the likes of Spielberg, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter in their prime by giving us a period of discovery to set up the mystery and never winking at the audience by having the circumstances unfold in a moronic manner. The premise is indeed ridiculous, but I never found myself thinking “This is just stupid.” I found myself thinking this was a wonderfully weird Yuletide fairy tale – more Brothers Grimm than Rankin-Bass – that gracefully crisscrosses genres, often in the same breath. It’s a horror movie, a coming-of-age family film, a fantasy adventure flick, and, yes, it’s even a Christmas story.
Pietari (Onni Tommila, clearly a superb child actor regardless of the language barrier) will go from a frightened little boy begging his father to spank him as punishment for being disobedient before Santa can get ahold of him and dish out his own potentially lethal punishment to a take-charge young man emerging as an action hero who’ll have you cheering for him as he comes into his own.
Rare Exports feels like it could easily be appropriate entertainment for the whole family until the occasional f-bomb gets dropped, mutilated reindeer are found by the dozens, a pick ax winds up in someone’s skull, and naked filthy Santa dong flaps freely in the freezing Scandinavian breeze. I’d still recommend the film for older children with parents less restrictive since those “adult” moments are fleeting and still considerably tamer than much of what you find in many of today’s PG-13 movies. I have no reservations recommending Rare Exports to anyone that wants to watch a truly unique motion picture that is all but assured instant cult classic status.
If there’s a single knock to be made against Rare Exports, it would be what I strongly suspect will be most viewers' biggest complaint: Something we very much want to see which is alluded to and teased never gets shown to us. You’ll know what I mean when you see the film and you’ll probably have the same reaction. The inclusion of this money shot would have almost certainly sent everyone home happy, even if only a brief glimpse. I suspect this was a victim of the film’s low budget. A shame because that’s the only lump of coal you’ll find in this stocking.
If this Santa Claus comes to your town, you better watch out. Why? I’m telling you why. Rare Exports is one of the best movies of 2010.
4 out of 5
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