Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Film review
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Starring Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen

American scientists dig deep into Lapland’s Korvatunturi Mountains in search of one of Christmas’s great secrets. It’s not long before locals find their reindeer dead and children start going missing. Young Pietari (Tommila) goes on to discover the dark truth about Santa Claus…

From Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night to the mighty Gremlins, sinister festive movies are almost as traditional as syrupy ones. The latest anti-Xmas epic is Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a snow-coated oddity that mixes Scandinavian folklore with retro-fantasy and all-out wackiness.

The film acts as a prequel to Jalmari Helander’s acclaimed 2003 short Rare Exports, Inc and its 2005 follow-up Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions, which saw a corporation taming wild Santas and selling them around the world. As with those shorts, one of Rare Exports’ great pleasures – though probably at the expense of alienating some viewers – is the way it resists easy classification. Part family drama, part fantasy and part comedy, it also slots into the ‘80s trend of kid-friendly horrors (see Gremlins, The Gate and The Monster Squad) – though it’s a strange breed of kids’ film, featuring, as it does, copious amounts of full-frontal old man nudity and some swearing (even if the subtitles replace much of the original Finnish-language cursing with charming, antiquated phrases such as “Fiddlesticks!”).

Veering wildly from terror to chortles to sentimentality, this really should be an awful mess. Yet it works brilliantly. Much of this is down to the charming characters. Pietari makes for a wonderfully endearing protagonist, gradually unearthing the truth about Santa and coming up with ingenious solutions to save the day; the image of the young hero wielding a shotgun in slo-mo like an old-school action hero is hilarious. The supporting characters are equally appealing, from the diminutive, Truman Capote-esque head of the expedition to Pietari’s mulleted pal who doesn’t believe in Father Christmas. The fool!

Helander could easily have turned his tale of a buried Santa into an all-out comedy or a whimsical, Big Fish– style fantasy. But the film’s deadpan nature works in its favour: dark delights include the sight of our heroes munching biscuits as they watch a cocooned, suspected Santa swinging from a hook, and a sequence in which captured kids writhe around inside sacks like burlap caterpillars!

The chaotic narrative does suffer from a few plot holes, and there’s some slightly iffy CGI in the third act. But it’s not enough to overshadow a colourful, crackers and truly original little picture – and as Christmas movies go, it’s infinitely more exciting than another Santa Clause sequel. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 8/10
Like last year’s The Hole (and much of Joe Dante’s other work), Rare Exports is a fun family fright flick filled with lovable characters and plenty of yo, ho, hos.

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