Few films have put the creep factor into Christmas. We’ve seen attempts by Tim Burton and a few slasher flicks but none will bastardize the holiday season as much as 2010’s Finnish hit Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Rare Exports hones in on the story of Santa Claus with a whole new light. Forget a jolly old man in a red suit, cute reindeer and cheerful elves. Santa is about to get as real as you can ever imagine.
Conceived by director Jalmari Helander and Jusso Halender for a short film back in 2003 on a Santa manufacturing company Rare Exports Inc, this version takes inspiration from European folklore as a twisted fairytale taking place in the Korvatunturi mountains of Lapland: the mythical home country of Old Saint Nick.
An archeological dig unearths what geologists describe as a ‘sacred grave’ buried thousands of feet inside the mountain and is blown open whilst being watched by two local children Pietari (Onni Tomila) and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen). It might be worth mentioning that they both believe that Santa is a bad elf who punishes naughty children and that inside the grave is the original Santa.
Soon after, a group of reindeer hunters, including Pietari’s and Piirparinen’s fathers Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and Aimo (Tommi Korpela), discover some strange goings on in their little town. Objects have begun disappearing from homes in the region and all the reindeer in the snowy foothills have been found slaughtered. Suspecting giant wolves as the culprits, Rauno sets a booby trap outside his cabin whilst a suspicious Pietari instead believes that our beloved Pere Noel is behind the mysterious incidents.
As Christmas Eve falls, Pietari attempts to stay awake to confront the evil Santa. However as morning breaks the townspeople discover that all of their children, with the exception of Pietari, are missing. Even more worryingly, Rauno has caught something in his trap: A decrepit old man with a long, grey beard.
From here, the fun begins!
Rare Exports pays a subtle homage to Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing with a few horror twists that might answer any flaws in the Santa mythos (just how can he visit all the children in the world in one night?) The acting from young Onni Tomlila is also impressive as we are invited to sympathise with Pietari due to his father’s refusal to believe his claims. Yet, after the mysterious and violent old man chained up in their slaughter-shed is witnessed by the other reindeer hunters, it would seem that there is no choice left but to believe in the existence of Santa Claus.
Whilst the narrative provides laughs and intrigue, the scenes in the film have a certain beauty with panoramic shots of the snowy Lapland mountains. One memorable moment comes in the final hour where the group escape from thousands of Santa’s pouring over the white landscape.
Rare Exports may not perhaps fill you with the hopeful joy that one might get from It’s A Wonderful Life, but it’s definitely a wild roller-coaster sleigh ride which nods to the childlike wonder of The Goonies and E.T.. It couples this with dark-humoured twists and a touch of Brothers Grimm met with some Guillermo Del Toro-style macabre.
Best quote: ‘Santa is going to find out who’s naughty or nice’.