4 / 5 stars
It’s been difficult to find a good holiday season cult movie for this month’s Quirky Queue. Never would I promote the vast amount of hackneyed “sociopath dresses as Santa” films (like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Psycho Santa). So this month it took quite a bit of research to bring you a very watchable underground film to break up the constant viewings of overplayed Christmas movies and Rankin & Bass animated shows. This month, we bring you the delightfully dark Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Released in 2010, the movie centers on young Pietari, the only child of single father Rauno, living in a tiny Finnish village in the shadow of a mountain that’s being excavated by Americans. Just what are the Americans looking for? How about this: A frozen demonic original Santa Claus, depicted in books as either a goat-man who punishes children by beating them with a large switch, or a geriatric who boils them in a large cauldron.
Of course, no one believes little Pietari when he says this ancient evil has been released. That’s because his father and other adults are too interested in their business of wrangling reindeer, of course. But when the latest herd shows up slaughtered, ruining the year’s harvest and adding to the town’s financial woes, the adults finally realize that there just may be something wicked afoot. Children disappear, along with radiators and stoves, as Pietari and the adults dig deeper into the mystery of the original Santa Claus, hoping to end his new reign of terror.
More suspense and mystery than full horror, Rare Exports stands out for several reasons beyond just its originality. The characters are well-defined, never coming across as the standard over-the-top, melodramatic horror fare. In fact, the relationship between Rauno and Pietari is real and sometimes touching, and each actor does a great job grounding the fantastic events in a certain realism that deepens the movie despite its oddness. Add some wonderful scenery and cinematography and you’ve got a very tight little foreign indie.
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, based on his original short film (included on the DVD), Rare Exports benefits from a twisting of traditional holiday cliches through the revisiting of old European folklore, as well as some great, witty dialogue. When Pietari tries to tell his friend about the real Santa he explains, “The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax.” Instead of staying up late for a glimpse of Santa, Pietari stays up in an effort to protect himself from the mythic figure. By the end of the film it’s easy to regard little Pietari as a holiday action hero who’s just as great as John McClane or Martin Riggs.
In Finnish, with a bit of English, and featuring one of the most bizarre epilogues ever put to film, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale will keep you glued to its twists and turns, finally leaving you with a smile on your face by cleverly reminding us of the real reason for the season.