When a British archeological dig on the Russian border of Finland hits 65 feet of sawdust, they've hit pay dirt - the burial mountain built by the Sami people to entomb Santa Claus. But their excavation does not unearth the commercial ideal. Young Pietari (Onni Tommila), the son of a reindeer hunter, discovers that what they've unleashed is a nasty creature out to punish children. Then his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), finds the annual reindeer herd mutilated. Father and son's respective problems merge when a strange naked old man is found in Rauno's wolf trap and investigation into his identity will lead them on a scary adventure to economic victory with "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale."
This clever Finnish export is not for any child who cannot be exposed to R-rated language, scary Santas and plenty of gore. "Rare Exports" has the potential for "Bad Santa" style cult status. For those who look no further, it's a tongue-in-cheek Yuletide horror tale, but writer/director Jalmari Helander (adapting his own short) has plenty to say about Western exploitation and commercialism in between the lines.
After naughtily slipping across the border to spy on the explosive guys whose work they can see and hear at home, Pietari does research on the Sami people and Santa and shares the alarming results with his older friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), including old lithographs of a demonic looking creature with the horns of a goat. After their fathers discover the reindeer carcasses and attribute the slaughter to Russian wolves, Juuso is more concerned that the hole in the border fence the boys cut is not linked back to them. Pietari is alone in his fears about what really happened to them, finding human footprints in the snow on the roof outside his window. His father's refusal to allow him to look into the wolf pit after the trap is sprung just spurs Pietari on. Once Rauno sees his son outside the upper window of his rural slaughterhouse, though, where he and his buddies Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) and Juuso's dad Amimo (Tommi Korpela) debate how to deal with the still alive victim (Per Christian Ellefsen, "Elling") bearing a U.S. passport, there is no more reason for secrets to be kept.
The locals hatch the clever idea to sell him back to the corporation which mined him for the money they lost on their annual reindeer hunt, and so put him in Piiparinen's Santa suit and cage him up like Hannibal Lecter. But we know the burial site has been deserted via Helander's genre salute to the first appearance of his 'monster,' which closes with an alarming '0 Days Until Christmas' warning. Then the group learns that the town's radiators have been stolen, a farmer's potatoes have been rid of their sacks and, worst of all, all the town's children excepting Pietari are missing.
"Rare Exports" works on so many levels, it's sure to delight cinephiles and genre addicts while pleasantly surprising the popcorn crowd who might normally eschew subtitles. The film's final act makes hay with action genre cliches, all compellingly and excitingly photographed by Mika Orasmaa (who won the cinematography award at the 2010 Sitges Film Festival along with the movie itself and the director).
Helander craftily sprinkles his film with modern Santa iconography. When dig overseer Greene (Jonathan Hutchings) learns that sawdust protects ice and deduces what his team has hit, he replaces safety signs with no ones, admonishing workers with things like 'No Swearing!' and 'Wash Behind Your Ears!' Gingerbread cookies are present throughout, most notably when used to keep 'Santa' at bay. When the kidnapped children are rescued, they're gathered in a giant sack that's airlifted by a helicopter, evoking Santa's sleigh and presents. An amusing coda plays into Helander's global economic subtext
"Rare Exports" is a rare holiday treat. I'll never be able to look at 'The Coca Cola Santa' the same way ever again.
Robin's review coming soon!
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