Tis the season after all and seeing as the closest I’ve come to reviewing a Christmas movie lately is Die Hard, I figured I might give this one a try. Like my last entry into B Movie Madness, Dead Snow, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a low budget, tongue-in-cheek Scandinavian horror flick with an impossible to resist premise. This time, instead of Nazi Zombies we have a more seasonally appropriate antagonist; Evil Santa Clause. After Rare Exports, Dead Snow, and Troll Hunter, I’m beginning to take a liking to Scandanavian cinema, and if anyone has any recommendations within that category I am all ears. It’s fairly straightforward and leaves a few key details unexplained, but all in all Rare Exports is a great off-the-wall choice for holiday entertainment.
After a month of digging, an American-led archaeological team unearths the icy grave of an ancient evil near the Russian border of Finland. In the valley below, a small village is preparing for Christmas when the local herd of reindeer is discovered slaughtered near the excavation site. As children start to go missing, young Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) discover an old man inside their baited wolf trap. After showing the man to his friends Aimo (Tomi Korpela) and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen), Rauno believes that they have merely trapped a crazy old drifter. Pietari knows better, however. He believes that the old man is in fact the real Santa Clause; not the commercial image of christmas joy, but an ancient evil creature who takes bad children form their homes. As children from around the village start to disappear, the adults start to take Pietari seriously and attempt to ransom the Santa back to the corporation that unearthed him, only to realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
The movie focuses a great deal on Pietari and his father, and even with the language barrier (most of the film is in Finnish, with subtitles in English) I felt like I was able to connect with their characters very well. It helps that Onni and Jorma are father and son in real life, and the love between them is easily visible on screen. Pietari has a spark of bravery and resolve that is always fun to watch in child actors, i.e. Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild from earlier this year. Rauno is also a strong source of support as Pietari’s stern but caring single father, and I was very impressed with the amount of love the actor was able to communicate for his real life son on screen.
Korpela and Juvonen are solid if perhaps one-dimensional supporting players, and I’m curious to see if anyone else thinks that Korpela looks a lot like Willem Dafoe. Jonathan Hutchings is certainly interesting as the english-speaking Brian Greene, who’s hubris is what allowed the Santa to be unearthed in the first place. Hutchings himself looks like a cross between Andy Serkis and Jim Broadbent, and while he’s certainly adequate as a sort-of-antagonist, I wish more development had been given to his list of “naughty” things to avoid around the Santa.
Honestly, the premise is inventive enough and logical enough to support the film, but there were more than a few times that I wished Director/Writer Jalmari Helander would have expanded a bit on the pseudo-folklore that he has created here. The old stories Pietari reads about the real Santa feel like they could easily be real, as they resemble old versions of the Brothers Grimm’s dark fairytails. As far as the specific workings of the legend of the Santa Clause, however, we aren’t given that many definitive statements on the rules that apply to his existence. For example, what does he do with children, why does he do it, does obeying the “Naughty/Nice” rules that Greene provides actually work, etc. I know films often intend for the audience to fill in the blanks with things like this, but if your creating an alternate reality with an alternate set of rules as a film maker, I really would like to know what those rules are in order to more fully enter into that world you’ve created.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
+ Great father/son dynamic between Pietari and Rauno
+ Very Inventive and fun premise
+ Surprisingly decent special effects utilized towards the end
– Not as much development of the premise or ending as I’d have liked
I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate around this time of year. Thank you for all of your patronage and I will continue to do my best to give you all reason to keep coming back!