How familiar are you with the legend of Santa Claus? I imagine most of you are familiar with it; Jolly old man, big white beard, red hat and coat, delivers presents on Christmas Eve to all the good children of the world, right? Wrong…well, according to the makers of Rare Exports anyway. This Finnish take on Father Christmas is decidedly darker than the usual cheery fare offered by Hollywood, and as such is wickedly enjoyable.
Rare Exports is the story of a group of reindeer farmers living in the shadow of a mountain where an archaeological dig at the top of the mountain reveals it to be in fact a gigantic burial mound. Shortly after, when the farmers discover that their livestock have all been savagely killed, it becomes clear that whatever has been buried in the mound has come back to life. One of the boys in the village, called Pietari, believes that the culprit is a supernatural being behind the Santa Claus myth, and is here with malevolent intentions.
What initially drew me to this strange film was it’s entirely unique version of a Christmas legend. It’s not the first time that festive events have been mixed with a touch of horror (Black Christmas, and Silent Night, Deadly Night for example), but this time it really feels like an organic fit and not forced at all. The story as a whole zips along and is almost over too soon, but it benefits from all the small touches to the mythology that make it darkly comic – how else would you placate a feral Father Christmas than with gingerbread biscuits? Events naturally build to a climax that is suitably bonkers given the subject material, and the post-finale closing scenes deliver the punch line of the film’s title that you might have been wondering about. This may seem like just one elaborate joke, but the preceding story was fascinating enough for me that the pay-off delivered the biggest laugh and is perfectly pitched for the darkly entertaining story.
For its modest budget, the special effects are great in a less-is-more way, showing you just what you need to see to believe in the weirdness of what you are witnessing. I mentioned that this is a horror film, but there are not many moments that terrified me – its more playfully wicked…unless your idea of horror is geriatric nudity, in which case be prepared to be scared quite a bit, this is about wild Santas, remember? Saying that, one scene where the farmers attend to their captured Kris Kringle borders on classic horror, with the creature barely moving and maintaining a creepy glare. The cast play their roles well, but I wouldn’t be able to name them all. The best performances come from real-life father and son, Onni and Jorma Tommila as Pietari and Rauno. As expected, their relationship is entirely believable and is the film’s emotional centre with a few nice moments.
Ultimately Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a bizarre yuletide ride that is worth taking if you want some mild terror as an antidote to the usual Christmas shmaltz; it’s enjoyable dark fantasy, that brings a whole new meaning to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”.
“You’d better watch out…”
Merry Christmas everyone!