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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

[Rating: 3/5]

Ready for a break from your typical Christmas movie, with its forced magic, emotional manipulation, and vague commentary on the Christmas spirit?  Here’s a film that will go down like a big drink of seltzer water, cleansing your palate, resetting your clock, and making you positively long for another Tim Allen ho ho ho.

Set in northern Finland among the reindeer-herding Sami people, “Rare Exports” takes place in the days leading up to Christmas.  In the shadow of a small mountain, a small community scratches out their existence, fighting off the wolves and the weather and waiting for a lucky break, or one that will finally kill them.  There are no women in the community.  One wonders how they procreate.  There are children.

An American scientist is excavating their mountain; he believes it is actually a burial mound.  Something goes terribly wrong at the excavation site.  Livestock in the community start to disappear, and one of the men (Jorma Tormilla) builds a wolf of trap — that is, he digs a pit, fills it with spikes, and hangs a pig’s head over it.  His little boy (Onni Tormilla – he really is his son?) doesn’t think it’s wolves.  He thinks it’s Santa Claus, unearthed up on the mountain, and out to get all the little kids.  He’s got a book full of grisly pictures to prove that Santa’s not as nice as he appears on TV, and that naughty kids really ought to be terrified.

It’s perhaps worth nothing here that the Santa Claus myth isn’t based on some Scandinavian monster story.  It’s based on 4th century Turkish bishop St. Nicholas, whose generosity towards the poor became legendary.  I have yet to see a movie about St. Nicholas.  All the same, “Rare Exports” is enjoyably creepy flick that turns the Santa Claus myth on its head without descending into cheap slasher tricks and tropes: “Santa’s Slay” this is not.

I can’t say that the ending was terribly satisfying.  “Rare Exports” began its life as a short film making its rounds on the internet, and when it gained enough attention and popularity, director Jalmari Helander decided to turn it into a feature film. It’s a promising début, showing a mastery of mood and atmosphere; it’s wonderfully creepy and dreadful.  But it’s also clear he didn’t have much of a budget; a film like this ought to lead to a climactic fight between the protagonist and the monster, but the best it can manage is a helicopter flight and an explosion.  We never actually see the real Santa Claus; we only see a 40 foot block of ice with grotesque horns protruding, and then it gets blown up.   Kind of a letdown.

Nonetheless, I liked this film.  I can imagine that many of my friends and family wouldn’t.  (My little brother would.) If you’re of a certain bent, if you need a nice Christmas gargle, or if you’ve ever thought “he sees you when you’re sleeping” was a bit creepy and weird, check this one out.  It’s good fun.


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