Traditionally speaking, it's hard to mix horror movies and Christmas.
I still vividly remember the outcry over "Silent Night, Deadly Night" when I was young. People seemed outraged at the idea of a Santa Claus slasher film. Looking at it now, it's a very strange movie to get upset about, and I'm not entirely sure who people are protecting when they get indignant about people playing with the Santa iconography. Santa's not a religious figure… he's not real… and he's not sacrosanct. As with all mythology, I think all things Santa are up for grabs for anyone working creatively, and based on my own research into the origins of Santa Claus, I think there is some rich and fertile material that has never been used in any movie.
At least, not until now. "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is a monster movie, a horror film, deliciously weird and filled with outrageous imagery. It uses the traditional Finnish Santa Claus mythology to set up a monster movie about a young boy who is the only one who knows what's going to happen when a team of explorers, allegedly a "seismic research team," decides to excavate a mountain nearby where Santa Claus is rumored to be buried.
One of them, anyway. See, in Norway, they have a wide array of Santas. 13 of them, actually, each with a different name, and each one behaving differently. The Santas of their traditional tales are creepy, vile things, cautionary figures for naughty children. It's about as far away from the Coca-Cola commercial version of Santa that we know today in our own culture as you can be. The real pleasure of watching "Rare Exports" comes from watching how Jalmari Helander, the film's writer/director, takes his country's mythology, the world's perceptions of Santa, and basic childhood fears, and combines it all into this particular story with such skill.
"Rare Exports" is a horror film, definitely, but it's the kind that could easily play to a younger audience as well as an adult audience. It's scary, but it's not non-stop violence by any means. And the mythology is so rich, so inventive, and so strange, that I think younger viewers would really lose themselves in it. Like many of the great fantasy films of my youth, this movie skirts that fine line between just scary enough and way too scary, and that tightrope act is part of the pleasure of the film.
When the "seismic research team" discovers their true goal, the wealthy businessman in charge tells his team that he wants the entire mountain excavated before Christmas. As they work, cattle starts turning up dead, and the little boy starts finding crazy footprints on his roof and outside his window. Knowing he's the only one who really understands what they're up against, the boy has to find a way to stop the arrival of Santa. How that involves a herd of naked elderly men, a helicopter, and a net full of bundled-up children is something that you'll have to learn for yourself when Adam Yauch's Oscilloscope Laboratories releases the film domestically.
The film was produced on a modest budget, but it's got a great sense of design, and even in those moments where the budget is apparent, it doesn't matter. Helander has made two earlier short films dealing with the "Rare Exports" ideas, and that may explain how he managed to make something so polished and affecting with this feature film version. He's supported by great cinematography by Mika Orasmaa and an excellent score by Juri Seppa. As a whole, the film is one of those pure pleasures that genre fans spend time searching out, and I'm encouraged by the idea that this one will get an American theatrical release. When it does, we'll be sure to point it out and remind you, because this is a treat from start to finish, and will make a lovely addition to my annual holiday programming.
"Rare Exports" will be released in the US in 2011.
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