Yes, Rare Exports is a killer Santa Claus movie.
Sadly, that’s going to be the albatross around its neck as it fights to
find an audience outside of its native Finland. I say “Killer Santa
Claus” and you automatically reply “Silent Night Deadly Night” and then
we both get sad because Silent Night Deadly Night tends to do that to
Rare Exports is not Silent Night Deadly Night. The killer Santa
Claus at the center of the film is not some psychopath in a Santa Claus
costume but Santa Claus himself. Or at least the Santa Claus of the old,
Finnish myths, where he wasn’t a jolly fat man who brings toys to good
children, but a monstrous demon who abducts and tortures bad children.
This is the Santa an excavation team accidentally digs up from a
tomb in the remote countryside. This is the Santa that kills the entire
team and makes his way to a nearby town, where only a young boy named
Pietari (Onni Tommila) realizes what terrible danger the entire child
populace is in. With Christmas just around the corner, Pietari must
convince his father and friends that Santa is not only real, but a
vicious fairy tale monster who has every intention of teaching the local
youth that Christmas is not about love and caring but about being
whipped to death for not behaving.
Director Jalmari Helander makes the right decision and plays the
whole scenario with a straight face. It would have been easy for this
movie to be campy and silly, to be ashamed of its own strange concept.
The final tone is delicate, finding a fine line between horror movie and
adventure story. The film feels like the best 1980s throwback made
without ever feeling too much like a 1980s throwback. Rare Exports is
the best Joe Dante movie that Joe Dante never made.
And that’s why it’s such a remarkable little movie: it’s scary
without being disturbing, gory without being too violent and edgy
without being too precious. If not for the absurd amount of old man
penis (and no, that’s not a typo), Rare Exports would be the perfect
movie for the young horror buff in-the-making and a perfect new
Christmas tradition for families that like good things. After all,
underneath the horror tropes, you’ve got a movie about family and love
and learning to stand up for yourself and all of the other important
messages you should be drilling into your kids’ heads. Hell, even the
child protagonist turns out to be something of a badass, a ten year old
kid who I have no problem rooting for.
If something doesn’t work for Rare Exports, it’s the truncated third
act, obviously stripped down due to budgetary constraints, which may
feel like something of a whimper after the 90 minutes of sheer dread
that preceded it. Of course, then the epilogue rolls around and supplies
the movie with the most delightful coda imaginable and all is forgiven.
Taking full advantage of its isolated mountainside setting, Rare Exports is a beautifully shot film, making its location a character unto
itself. Too many low-budget horror films (and more than a few at
Fantastic Fest) feel like they cobbled together in the editing room out
of whatever handheld close-ups they managed to grab on the set. Rare Exports looks like a real movie, taking a note or two from John
Carpenter’s The Thing and making the snowbound small-town location reek
If Helander wants to make an entire career out of taking taking
fairy tale characters, tracing them back to their terrifying roots and
building a horror movie around them, I’d be overjoyed. This is something
special, one of the most beloved films at Fantastic Fest this year and a
future cult classic.
Not to mention, this is a killer Santa Claus movie. You’re a CHUD.com reader. Why would you not see this movie?