The Film: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Opening December in select markets.

The Principals: Written/Directed by Jalmari Helander. Starring Per Christian Ellefsen, Peeter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila.

The Premise: Strange things have been happening in the Finnish reindeer (or caribou, to us North Americans) ranching community living at the base of the Korvatunturi mountains, and they suspect it has something to do with the English-speaking mining operation working at the mountain’s peak. But only young Pietari (Onni Tommila) suspects the whole truth – that the miners have uncovered something that was never meant to be uncovered, something that their ancestors tried to protect all of humanity from…

Santa Claus!

Only this Santa Claus doesn’t give out presents, just painful death to children. Of course, no one will believe Pietari. At least not until Pietari’s father (Jorma Tommila) accidentally catches Santa (Peeter Jakobi) in one of his wolf traps. But now that they have Santa, what do they do with him? And how long can they hold him?

Is It Good: Yes. The concept for Rare Exports is straight out of a late 90’s A-Pix production, like Jack Frost or Uncle Sam. It practically begs to be gratuitous and campy, playing everything for out-and-out laughs. Helander’s (expanding the ideas from his 2003 short film, Rare Exports, Inc.) smartest creative decision here was choosing to play the film dead serious. I’m sure a gonzo killer Santa movie could have been great back in the day, but we’ve already gone so far down the ironically detached humor rabbit hole in the past fifteen years that now sincerity seems like the edgiest way to play anything. We’ve come full-circle, I think. Sincerity is the new black.

If you joined the film after its opening scene, featuring the creepy
Peter Lorre-like businessman funding the ill-fated mountain-top dig, you
would likely assume you were watching a charming and sad dramedy about a
widower struggling to provide for his son in a rapidly modernizing
Finland, where industrialization threatens his quaint way of life. Then
kids start disappearing and a crazy naked guy falls into his wolf trap.

Tommila gives a great, precocious performance, which is both funny –
suiting up with a helmet and padding for the majority of the film, and
carrying a real rifle (cultural difference, it would seem) – and at
times touching – a wistful scene of eating gingerbread with his father,
after his father has screwed up the main course of their dinner, and
thoughts of the missing mother arise.

The A-Pix version of this film would’ve been a straight-up slasher flick, with Santa dismembering someone in a fountain of gore every ten minutes, like the Goldberg vehicle, Santa’s Slay. Rare Exports is extremely light on the gore. This is a horror film with very little death. It has no interest in being a film hailed for its amazing kills; it has a whole other kind of cinematic soul mate in mind – early Spielbergian cinema. We’re not in the American suburbs, but this is very much a Spielbergian film about troubled yet mundane family life being interrupted by fantastical events that ultimately re-unite and save the family unit. A slasher movie is always fairly predictable, but you will have no clue where Rare Exports is going, and believe me, it goes to some crazy places.

In fact, my only complaint about the film is that once we hit Rare Export‘s biggest surprise near the end, the film mostly drops its straight face. While the climax never disappoints on the entertainment level, it does deign to be silly. This kept the film from being a true genre masterpiece for me, but I don’t want to imply that the film gets bad. I think many of you may actually love that the film gets as silly as it does (and there are some great moments of ridiculousness to behold). Either way, the film has so much goodwill momentum from its first 2/3, that it easily coasts into its memorably bonkers resolution regardless of how you view the climax.

Is It Worth A Look: I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who won’t particularly enjoy Rare Exports. But none of those people read CHUD. You, dear readers, will dig this film. You may even love it.

Random Anecdotes:
In Finland the ideas behind Rare Exports aren’t as wacky as they seem over here. For one thing, in Finnish culture children are told that Santa Claus lives in the Korvatunturi mountains, not the North Pole. So if he was going to be buried anywhere, that’d be the spot. More importantly, Joulupukki, the traditional Finnish Christmas figure, bore little resemblance to the modern Santa Claus. Joulupukki, which means “Yule Goat,” is very similar to the Krampus (the sinister horned counterpart to St. Nicholas in various Northern European traditions). Instead of giving out presents, he existed purely to frighten and torture naughty children.

Cinematic Soulmates: The Gate, Gremlins, E.T..