Rare Exports is a Christmas horror film that, unlike most films in the genre, manages to maintain its childish sense of wonder.
This is accomplished through the rather simple conceit of casting Santa Claus as an ancient, mythical creature who punishes wicked children not with practical gifts of coal, but with torture and death. In this way, Santa is still a magical being that only a child believes in (until undeniable evidence presents itself, anyway). That child is Pietari, who has the most chipmunk-y face you’ll ever see.
Pietari sneaks just across the boarder into Russia to spy on a group of arrogant Americans (aren’t they all?) who have come to excavate a mountain. After hearing scant bits of their conversation, as translated by his friend, Pietari becomes convinced that they are digging up the corpse of Santa Claus. Some quick research at home (using his inexplicably large library of folkloric tombs), and the kid decides that this is not an auspicious happening; because Santa, the real Santa, is a sadistic monster.
You can probably guess the rest.
Rare Exports is based on two short films which the same director made and released to the internet. They were about a group of hunters who made a business of capturing ‘wild Santas’ from the northern wilderness of Finland, and exporting them around the world. The full length version is essentially a prequel; though a fairly awkward one.
It seems that director Jalmari Helander was a little too married to the short films from which this one sprang, forcing him to take an intimate story about a father and son, and give it an overblown and kind of ridiculous resolution just for the sake of tying it into the established mythology. It’s just jarring, and doesn’t ring true with the tone or rules set out at the start of the film.
But I’m not going to condemn a whole movie because of its last four minutes. Most of it is great. The setting is beautiful, the Santa is very creepy and highly effective as a horror movie monster (even though there’s a little too much old-man nudity), and the buildup of tension is spot on.
It’s ostensibly a horror film, but it isn’t graphic in the least. It’s what a child would find horrific; a monster lurking outside his bedroom window, waiting to boil him in a big pot. But its not a childish movie, either. The subject matter is taken completely seriously, and it doesn’t go out of its way to pull punches (it just saves its punches for off screen).
The fact that it’s in Finnish with English subtitles aside, Rare Exports deserves a place on the self with the great holiday films. It has its problems, like most of them; but it brings something new to the table, and that more than makes up for it. At least it isn’t another saccharin story about the ‘true meaning of Christmas.’
The Blu Ray is very good, and the snow capped scenery really shines. The two short films on which this is based are included as extras.