Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Honestly, it doesn’t take much to make Santa Claus scary. The booming voice, the immortal longevity and the world-spanning grip all contribute to the unearthly aura surrounding old Saint Nick. Over the years, we’ve seen our fair share of deranged Santas, whether they be serial killers (Black Christmas), an anagram of Satan (Santa’s Slay) or Billy Bob Thorton (Bad Santa). By itself, a scary Santa Claus movie isn’t much of a stretch. On the other hand, a scary Santa Claus movie about childhood, morality, consumerism and Finnish reindeer hunters is a new one, even for me.
Most children eventually grow up learning there is no Santa Claus. Young Pietari (Onni Tommila) learns the real truth: Santa Claus is real, and he’s one nasty character you don’t want to coming down the chimney. Pietrari tries to warn his reindeer hunter father and his friends, but they are much more concerned with the implications of a so-called “seismic study” taking place on a nearby mountain – one that entombs the evil Claus. Soon, ominous omens rattle the small Finnish community, propelling Pietari and company into a one-on-one confrontation with the Big Man in Red, and nothing is as it seems.
Nowadays, a lot of horror movies simply do not make sense. They spend all their brainpower on one last big twist before falling apart by the closing credits. “Rare Exports” is the rare exception to this trend. Every inciting incident – from an Advent Calendar held down by scotch tape and staples to a rash of radiator thefts – seamlessly contributes to the plot. Because of this thoroughness, the end result is as spectacularly compelling as it is powerfully bizarre. The decision to make Pietari the main character is also commendable, as it charts a unique coming-of-age journey, from helpless horror cliche to unconventional hero. With unexpected twists and inventive turns, “Rare Exports” wows on a level that makes its surreal brand of suspense look easy.
Though perfectly paced at 80 well-spent minutes, the film falters a bit in exploring its own mythology. Certain points – ranging from the origins of Santa’s not-so-little helpers to the motives of the eccentric millionaire financing the dig – remain unclear. However, these oversights are more plot pores than full-fledged plot holes – especially when “Rare Exports” director Jalmari Helander moves at a speed that would make Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan equally jealous.
Overall, “Rare Exports” is the perfect Christmas present for fans of the endearing-yet-off-beat. The film has a presence which unwraps slowly yet steadily while always leaving its contents intact. More than any other film I’ve seen, “Rare Exports” captures both the anticipation and satisfaction of an unexpected Christmas present’s revelation from start to finish.
See “Rare Exports” when it opens in select theaters starting today. Catch it in a theater near you using Fandango.
The Other Guy’s Take
So, this is what the red carpet feels like? I’m so excited to be reviewing (free of spoilers, because the film hasn’t been fully released) a movie the day it premieres. Even if I wasn’t invited to the screening in New York nor the one in LA next week. Even so, I imagined a red carpet when Richard and I sat down on my battered leather couch, popped the screener into the PS3 for some upscaling high-def viewing and watched this great movie. Now, now, I am not saying it is a great movie just because of the screener, but because this movie is right up our alley.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a Finnish film that is a horror-esque take on the Santa Claus legend, told through the eyes of a child named Pietari. And what child is not afraid that secretly Santa Claus is evil and doesn’t care which children have been naughty or nice. What’s not to like?
Well, a few things. One being, that at the beginning of the movie, one of the supporting actors just states, without an explanation as to how the character knows this ‘Santa Claus is buried in that mountain.’ There is no ‘oh, old legend says this’ or ‘My papa told me this.’ How does a ten year old kid know this, and none of the adults do, seem to remember or care? I would have liked a bit more build up, or even a prologue text sequence, so that the first half hour feels smooth, rather than feeling as if we missed the first five minutes of the film.
Though, through that first half we are made to care for the characters and their interactions with Pietari. Thankfully, we aren’t treated to a precocious know-it-all child, but one that is just scared and cares for his father. His father is a butcher/hunter who lives in a small town near the Russian border. They have been living near that border for all their lives and are not pleased that the Russians are digging and blowing up that hill and scaring their main food/economic source of reindeer. A few days before Christmas, things take an even worse turn for Pietari and his village, when the big round up is an utter failure. All the reindeer have been slaughtered, right next to the fence that separates that mountain from their hunting grounds. Their winter looks terribly bleak and the parents are ashamed. There is a touching scene, where all there is for dinner is gingerbread cookies and Rauno (his father) tries to stay strong when Pietari asks him if he has been a good boy. So, it is quite understandable the next day when his father has quite a bit of rage when he has accidentally captured one of those responsible for the bad season.
That is when things really pick up, once Jolly Old Saint Nick appears on the scene to be delectably creepy. However, it is not a horror film. It is more suspense and along the lines of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ or ‘Legend’ with Christmas mythology sprinkled in. Much like ‘Christmas Vacation’ this will fall into my regular holiday viewing.