Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale Movie Review
Written by Steve Pattee
The real Santa was totally different. The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax. – Pietari
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander
2010, 83 minutes, Not Rated
Onni Tommila as Pietari
Jorma Tommila as Rauno
Per Christian Ellefsen
When you think of Santa Claus, you no doubt think of a jolly fat man ho-ho-ho-ing his way around the world delivering gifts to good little girls and boys to open on Christmas Day. Yeah, get that thought out of your head, because according to Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Santa Claus is a dick. Instead of bringing joy to the hearts of children, he beats the naughty ones to death — which is basically all of them. Way back when, he was such a pain in the ass, the people of Finland trapped him in a block of ice and built the Korvatunturi mountains over his frozen body. All was well and good for a couple thousand years until some Americans came in and decided to excavate the mountains and retrieve the demon from his slumber.
This does not bode well for the residents of the village below the rocks, since after a mysterious slaughter of the excavators, something starts killing off the surrounding reindeer and, later on, kidnapping children. This is not good since, ironically, the townsfolk make their living by slaying the beasts and without their trade, they will go broke.
Fortunately for the villagers, young Pietari has done some investigating and has figured out who is responsible for the terrible things happening. The problem, of course, is to get the adults to listen to him before it's too late.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale started its life in 2003, when writer/director Jalmari Helander made a short called Rare Exports Inc. The seven minute piece showed a group of hunters bringing down an older gentlemen with tranquilizers, then giving him some specialized work training. Then, in 2005, Helander released a follow up: Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions. This "sequel" ran just under 11 minutes and provided the rules the workers must follow when working for the Rare Exports company. Now, five years later, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale has arrived, complete with the same sinister overtones that the shorts were layered with and just in time for the holidays.
One of the biggest appeals of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is that it takes itself seriously. It's a dark movie free of winks and nods, which is an absolute pleasure due to its holiday theme. With few exceptions, Santa Claus himself seems to be off limits in the horror genre. Sure you have films like Silent Night Deadly Night or Christmas Evil, but they have killers simply dressed as the big man. On the flip, there's Santa's Slay, but that film, while a guilty pleasure, is completely tongue-in-cheek. But with Rare Exports, Jalmari Helander has created a scenario where there's nothing merry about the season that sees the countryside littered with dead Dashers, Dancers, Prancers and Vixens.
The weight of Rare Exports' success or failure falls squarely on young Onni Tommila's performance as the child protagonist Pietari, and the kid carries that load as if it was nothing. His performance is striking as he runs a gamut of emotions with ease. For the majority of the film, he is frustrated and scared of the the evil that has moved into his town, but once he takes charge, you, like the men who ignored him much of the movie, are forced to stand up and take notice. It's not often I find a child actor is impressive as Tommila, as he easily held his own with the more experienced cast.
Jalmari Helander manages to do a whole lot with very little in Rare Exports. Instead of relying on in-your-face effects, Helander tells his story with atmosphere and imagination. Utilizing the beautiful Finnish landscape to its fullest, he and cinematographer Mika Orasmaa make the scenery a character itself, it does nothing but add to the sense of dread and isolation of the movie. In addition, Helander keeps it simple creeping you out, like when Pietari wakes up to find footsteps on the roof outside of his window or when the strange man is found in the wolf-pit (a big hole filled with sharpened stakes) and all you see is his arm.
However, the same places where Helander succeeds is also where the film suffers slightly. There is a wonderful buildup to a final confrontation, but at the end, it just fizzles. You never get to really see the end boss. That's not to say the movie does not have a satisfactory conclusion, as it does, but there is a disappointment to the finale because the entire film leads up to a big bad, but you never have the satisfaction of seeing him in full. This is an independent feature, so there is little doubt that money was an issue and Rare Exports does an exemplary job weaving its tale, but it's like you've ate a grand dinner and saved room for desert, only to find that they are out of the chocolate cake you want and all that's left is pie. Sure the pie is adequate, but you really wanted that cake.
It also would have been nice if the supporting characters were developed just a bit more. At just 83 minutes, Rare Exports had more than enough wiggle room to give a better backstory to the townsfolk, especially Pietari and his father, Rauno. The two play splendidly off each other and Jorma Tommila as Rauno is exceptional. At first glance, Rauno is a man's man all around who shows no fear, but when it comes to his boy, he's overprotective because he cares so much about him. There's a brief mention of his wife, Pietari's mother, and Rauno becomes saddened and reflective, but then that scene is quickly ended before there's any development. With the actor's capability and the available time to use, it seems to be a missed opportunity for Helander that's not quite excusable as the lack of a last boss since this wouldn't have been a money issue, but rather a script issue.
Even so, the meat of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is tasty and it is one of those rare movies that sneaks up and impresses the hell out of you. The performances are solid throughout, the story is fresh and original and it is the perfect addition to your Christmas-themed horrorathons. It will premiere theatrically on December 3rd, and definitely go check it out if it's in a cinema near you.