Monday, December 23, 2013

Horror Film Review

Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale (2010):  Looking for a Christmas film that doesn't involve a BB gun-obsessed Ralphie, a hapless family of Griswolds, or a suicidal George Bailey?  And are you looking for a Christmas film that's dark, full of naked old dudes, and, is, um...Finnish?  Then boy, have I got a movie for you!  Deal with the subtitles.

 In the remote northern climes of Finland, a mysterious organization is excavating the top of a mountain.  They reach a massive layer of sawdust dating back 800 years and the company's goofy boss gets excited.  In the 14th century, the native Finns, the Sami, captured an evil creature, imprisoned it in ice, and then built a mountain over the prison.  Goofy boss guy thinks he's found the original Santa Claus and that the discovery will make him rich. 

Spying on the strange goings on are local boys Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Jarvenpaa).  Pietari is around 10 and still believes in Santa. His friend Juuso is older and tells his young friend the hard truth.  Back down in the valley, the boys' fathers prepare for the reindeer round up (the source of their livelihood) but find the entire herd slaughtered.  They blame the excavators, thinking the dynamite blasts drove wolves into their valley.  Armed and pissed, they go to the site but it's deserted.  Back home, Pietari learns the true story of Santa from an old folklore book and is properly freaked.  His father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) finds a dead old guy in a wolf trap (a pit with spikes in the bottom).  They drag the body into Rauno's butcher shop where it turns out he was only mostly dead.  Pietari enters, old dude really perks up, then the boy convinces everyone the guy's really the evil Santa.  The menfolk contact the goofy boss, offer to sell evil Santa for $85,000, and set up a meet at an enormous hanger.  By the way, while all this had been going on, every child and all appliances that create heat have vanished.  Why?  Well, they soon learn the truth from the boss.  That's not Santa; it's an elf.  One of hundreds that suddenly swarm out of the woods and attack.  The locals retreat to the hanger where they find the missing kids tied up in gunny sacks next to dozens of stoves and radiators on full blast that ring a block of ice the size of a two-story house.  Near the top, two horns protrude.  Real damn big horns.  Yeah, the real Santa is a twenty-foot tall demon.  Surrounded and with certain death just minutes away, Pietari steps up and takes command.  He has a plan...and it's brilliant. 

Despite the R rating, hundreds of buck-naked elderly gentlemen, and the whole Santa-is-a-child-murdering-monster thing, this is a feel-good holiday flick.  No, really.  There's plenty of subtext; the father/son relationship between Pietari and Rauno is fascinating.  And watching Pietari evolve from a shy milquetoast into a clever badass makes you want to cheer.  I also need to mention the scenery.  It's simply awe-inspiring.  A nice antidote to seeing old man junk flopping around.  I mean, jeez...

The Skinny

Acting:  No performance is lacking, but the two Tommilas are especially impressive. 
Story:  A new one on me, which is never a bad thing.
Direction:  Jalmari Helander takes a while to get the action in gear, but even when it's slow, it's not remotely boring.
Production Values:  Made for around two million euros, the film has the look of a much more expensive endeavor.  I can't verify it, but I'm sure very little was shot in a studio.  Remarkable realism.  Their breath is not CGI and Pietari's cheeks are pink because it's Finland in winter, not rouge. 
Gore/FX:  Surprisingly light on blood and guts.  There are a number of scenes with extensive CGI and all are professionally executed.  The explosion towards the end is groovy. 
Scares:  There are a few.  One is quite effective.
Ending:  Which one?  The first one I liked.  The second...well, I guess Rauno and company had to recoup their money somehow.
Verdict:  Should you see Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale?  Yes.  No qualifier this time. Just yes.  You may even add it to your existing holiday traditions.  Er, probably should keep it away from the kiddies, though.  Finding out Santa isn't real would be bad enough.  They'd need therapy if they watched this.

Rating:  4 out of 5


  1. Nathan.... where the heck do you find this stuff?

    Merry Christmas, dear guy.

  2. They show up on Netflix out of the blue, hang around for a few months, then disappear. Just happened upon this one. Merry Christmas to you, too.