"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is a deliciously deceptive (and unexpected) mixture of horror, action/adventure, and dark comedy. If you've been a movie buff for a long time, love anti-holiday favorites like "Bad Santa" and "Black Christmas", but still desire something new to add to your collection of films that follow the Grinch philosophy; then this little Finnish fantasy will more than do the trick. It's a crafty film; written and directed by Jalmari Helander, who has as much a strong hand with a camera as with a pen. Here, he has created an original, daring vision of holiday horror; and if it's a crazy, wild, satisfyingly off-kilter ride that you crave, then look no further, because "Rare Exports" just about leaves every other recent anti-holiday feature face-down in the snow.
The basic - but ingenious - concept of the film is that a group of mountain excavators have dug one whole too many; and too deep. They have discovered a giant, frozen Santa Clause; the one you probably didn't know about; the one who has, until now, existed only in Finnish lore. This Santa doesn't give you presents; instead, he's a child killer. And as I mentioned before, he's very, very big. I'd also add on to that statement that he's very, very angry - since he probably is - but we never quite see him in time.
A group of reindeer herders are perturbed by the excavations going on in the mountains; prompting them to investigate. A few of the herders have children - and two of them happen to come along for the trip - although they soon discover the true motives behind the excavations. It's the sort of situation where you desperately want to turn your back to the situation; yet you can't fight the intrigue that it inspires.
I won't spoil too much of what follows. This is a delightful treat of a movie; very cinematic in its broad, visionary ideas, but also quite intelligent as well. For one, the premise suggest a giant Santa; one that we never see. But given the presence of the frozen beast, we expect a straight-up comedy. But that isn't the kind of movie that Helander has set out to make; no, "Rare Exports" plays more like a horror film than anything else. Despite the said premise, it takes itself almost completely serious; although it does have a few moments of satire and humor that make it an easy film to swallow.
Nevertheless, I can't profile it under any other genre than horror; unless I can get by without profiling the film under one genre at all. It truly is something else; not merely a horror film, not merely a dark fantasy, and not merely a part-time satirical look at Finnish lore. In fact, it's all of those films; and perhaps even more. There's heart, a general sense of danger, thrills, and storybook-images of Santa boiling kiddies in giant, black cauldrons. That last thing isn't going to appeal to everyone - in fact, it might offend a certain group of people - but then again, they probably won't see this film in the first place.
The way I see it, "Rare Exports" has already vanished into some sort of obscurity. I think it's our jobs - as the fans (and critics) who appreciated just how unique and entertaining the film was - to change this. This is a terribly overlooked film, and I found it quite fantastic. Given this, I also think it's well-deserving of a faithful audience, and perhaps in the future, it shall itself a nice little cult. I also tip my hat to Helander; who provides us with a pretty damn good show. I haven't seen any other films from him - nor do I know if he's even made any films aside from this one - but either way, I can see him becoming a promising filmmaker somewhere down the road. He gives "Rare Exports" an interesting visual look; and the cinematography is flawless and sometimes even atmospheric.
Look, I'm just getting a little bit tired of standard Christmas movie formula; and "Rare Exports" provided me with the kind of dark, fantastical escapism that I needed and deserved. If you're anything like me, then it will probably have the same effect on you. Regardless, I smell a new holiday classic in the making; and I'll make this one a "must" for me when it comes to Christmas movie-watching from now on. I had a really good time watching this flick; and like I said, I think it deserves more attention and recognition for its creativity and masterful tonal shifts. "Rare Exports" is rare indeed; the kind of Christmas present that you open with delight, only to find that inside lies a punching glove on a spring; ready to pounce. But there's always fun in something like that, isn't there?