The things I’d first heard about Rare Exports made it sound
like a Christmas horror movie centered around Santa Claus as the killer.
That made enough sense, as the “Santa slasher” subgenre has been a path
well-tread by such movies as Silent Night Deadly Night and Black
Christmas. But it turns out that this was a completely mistaken
impression. The film isn’t a slasher at all, or even much of a horror
film. Rather, it has much more in common with kids’ adventure films of
the ’80s and ’90s. You know, the kind of films in which all of the
adults are totally incompetent and the only characters who can do
anything are the pre-teens that nobody listens to.
As the film begins, an eccentric American tycoon is leading a large
demolition crew at an excavation site on a Finland mountain. He gives a
grand speech saying that this mountain is actually the world’s largest
burial mound and that they have until Christmas (24 days away) to do
some grave robbing. This speech is witnessed by our hero, a young boy
named Pietari from the nearby town, who somehow jumps to the immediate
conclusion that the crazy rich guy must have been talking about Santa
This is followed by an opening credits montage, in which we see
Pietari surrounded by books about Santa Claus for 23 days straight. More
specifically, these books contain all sorts of obscure knowledge about
Santa’s history as a demon who kidnapped and tortured naughty children,
as opposed to “the Coca-Cola Santa” who rewards nice children.
Naturally, this makes our hero an expert on the movie’s villain, though
everyone else in the village is of course totally ignorant and skeptical
of this knowledge.
Right off the bat, this movie is loaded with plot holes. How did
Pietari come to guess with total accuracy that Santa was dead and buried
under that mountain? Also, is this kid really so gullible as to believe
that Santa is a demon just because he read about it in a few books? Why
does this middle-of-nowhere town have fewer indoor toilets than books
on monster Santa? Perhaps most importantly, why hasn’t anyone else read
these books?! I don’t know about you, but if I grew up in a town without
wi-fi, cable or movie theaters, I’d read every book I could get my
hands on at least twice. Alas, you know as well as I do that these plot
holes are to be expected in a genre dependent on our protagonist knowing
everything and our supporting cast refusing to listen until the last
minute. It’s cliched, but let’s roll with it.
Anyway, Pietari and his father live with their neighbors in this tiny
little Finland town next to the aforementioned mountain/burial mound.
The locals in this town are so poor that they depend entirely on
harvesting venison for their income. The problem is that this year, all
the local reindeer have been mysteriously slaughtered before the annual
harvest. Pissed off and facing bankruptcy, the locals blame the
excavation crew (rightfully so, of course) and go to demand
compensation. The site is found abandoned, the local kids start
disappearing and a strange old man with a beard is discovered.
Regarding this film’s portrayal of Santa Claus, I can’t find any
evidence that Saint Nick was ever this nasty. However, I did find a
monster called Krampus who fits the
description of this movie’s villain to a tee. The film seems to
consider Santa and Krampus as one and the same, which could be
considered a bold re-interpretation of the subject matter. At the same
time, seeing the two characters as separate entities puts a very
different spin on events during the movie’s third act. It would suggest
that Santa and Krampus weren’t partners so much as… well, I won’t
spoil it for you.
Technically, the film is quite well-made. The effects are good, the
production design is solid and the score is marvelous. The editing
could’ve used some improvement, though, as there are a couple of shots
here and there that are either worthless or too long. More notably,
there’s no denying that the characters are cookie-cutter (so to speak),
especially our hero. Pietari is a rather weak and pathetic boy, so much
so that his sudden turn into a proactive hero was abrupt enough to give
me whiplash. What’s more, the characters are all played with a certain
amount of camp, none more so than our American billionaire.
Still, this movie really shines is in its ingenious use of Christmas
images and myths. Santa’s fondness for cookies is very cleverly
utilized and the film provides a brilliant solution for how Santa is
able to be in a zillion places at once on Christmas Eve. The movie also
makes effective use out of advent calendars, a Christmas tradition
that I haven’t seen in too many other Christmas movies and certainly
never like this.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale has all the makings of a cult
classic. The film was clearly made with adults in mind, but it gleefully
plays with old kids’ movie formulas. What’s more, the film is
better-made than a foreign low-budget film ought to be and the Christmas
imagery is very inventive. I personally wasn’t bowled over by it —
huge amounts of camp and plot holes aren’t exactly my cup of tea — but I
certainly didn’t hate the movie either. I can clearly understand the
appeal and I deeply respect the fact that this movie is so unlike
anything else out there.
The film has dialogue in English and subtitled Finnish. There’s an R
rating due to some coarse language and some rather gross non-sexual
nudity. If you’re not the kind to be deterred by such details, then
you’re probably the kind who should check this movie out for yourself.
It’s only 84 minutes long and trust me, it’ll fly right by.