Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Per Christian Ellefsen, Peeter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela
Tagline: This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.
Release Date: Friday, December 3, 2010 (Limited)
US Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Buried deep within this land of perpetual snow lies a mythical being of wicked origin: Santa Claus. More specifically it’s a fusion the Finnish folk legend of Father Christmas with his lesser known counterpart the Krampus to create an altogether new (and far more sinister) kind of creature. Surprisingly, however, the film offers more of a suspense-thriller vibe than it does straight on horror, filled with quieter moments of dread than an all out Santa-themed slaughter.
As Jalmari Helander’s first feature length film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale offers an impressive ensemble of unknown talent emphasized by a solid script and foreboding score, all of which have been deftly honed over the course of his previous short films (Rare Exports, Inc. and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions). On some levels it’s comparable to John Carpenter’s The Thing, by way of The Monster Squad, and though the film doesn’t spend too much time explaining it’s premise we are given enough visual cues to allow our imagination to fill in the gaps.
Opening with an archaeological dig atop the Korvatunturi mountains on Christmas Eve, the story unfolds through Pietari’s eyes whose belief in Santa reveals to us a deeper mythology behind the holiday icon, much darker than the “Coca-Cola Santa” we see on television today. More of a brutish old man, Rare Export‘s Santa is quick to punish those deemed “naughty,” a fact that the film reminds us of thanks to a comical list of safety instructions (Always Behave, Don’t Drink Alcohol, Don’t Yell, and so on) which the archaeologists fail to take heed of. The result of their failure is far worse than a stocking full of coal (more like a pick-axe to the head).
The next day we’re introduced to our main cast of the hunters: Amimo (Tommi Korpela), Rauno (Jorma Tommila), Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) and the talented Onni Tommila as Rauno’s young son, Pietari. After discovering that their winter game has slaughtered and left to rot, leaving them without food or an income, the hunters return home destitute. This sets the scene for a rather heartfelt moment between Pietari and his father at Christmas dinner (ie. gingerbread cookies), adding real depth to the single father and his son before Peeter Jakobi steps in to steal the scene as “Santa” during the later half of the film.
Jakobi’s wafer-thin frame makes for a surreal and disturbing depiction of good ‘ole Saint Nick and it’s not long after his discovery by Rauno that things snowball and all hell breaks loose. Convinced by Pietari that the strange old man is really Santa Claus, Rauno and his fellow hunters decide to sell him to recoup their losses only to find out that their captive is far from the only one of its kind. I won’t spoil the ending for you, though most will see it coming, but rest assured that it provides a truly frightening twist that I can only hope is touched upon in one of Helander’s future installments in the Rare Export series.
As a whole, Rare Exports is one of the most polished independent films I’ve seen in some time and I’m so thankful for the effort by Oscilloscope Laboratories to give it a stateside release. With this film Helander has given us a new Christmas classic that is sure to satiate the appetites of fans of seeking something new to spice up the holiday season beyond repeats of Scrooged or Silent Night, Deadly Night. If you’re anywhere near these theaters, I highly encourage you to see it. Rare Export: A Christmas Tale premieres December 3, 2010 at the IFC Center.