This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus. Too bad we literally better not pout, or cry, or shout. Because this year Santa really is coming to town & he ain’t bringing any bags filed with toys. You better watch out indeed…..
It seems like The Black Saint has seen about 50 movies this week alone. I haven’t of course but it’s only Tuesday but who knows what my final tally for the week will be? I’ll tell you this though, the best movie I’ve seen this month and one of my favorites for the year is “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale”. A really strange & completely bizarre movie from Finland that takes the Santa Claus mythos & turns it on it’s ear in a really unexpected but wonderfully twisted way.
The film opens in Finland with an excavation crew looking for something buried deep inside Mount Korvatunturri. One of the workers discovers, strangely enough. some sawdust. When he reports & shows his find to his superior he immediately tells his employee that sawdust was used to keep frozen things insulated hundreds of years ago & that they are close to what he is looking for. He immediately produces some new cards for distribution to all of the other workers & instructs them to follow them to the tee. Among the new rules on the cards: No smoking, no cursing, no fighting, etc..etc. Of course, the employee curses & lights up a cigarette in response. The cigarette is promptly pulled out of his mouth & he is warned to watch his language. Seriously. The boss then instructs all of the workers to keep digging into the mountain proclaiming: “We have a grave to rob”!
Cut to a young boy named Pietari & his father Rauno who live not too far from the foot of the mountain. Pietari & his friend Juuso have cut a hole in the fence surrounding the excavation site & overheard the workers grumbling about what they’re looking for & the new rules. He doesn’t want to tell his father because he believes in Santa Claus & doesn’t want to be labeled as a bad boy. He has a book chronicling the REAL Santa Claus & is scared because according to this book when Santa is upset with you he doesn’t just leave coal in your stocking. He tortures you mercilessly & then kills you in most unpleasant ways. This really scares young Pietari so he makes sure his house is well lit & he is prepared for Santa’s imminent arrival so he can defend himself against him because he’s cut a hole into the fence & he thinks Santa will look at him as a bad child.
Meanwhile Pietari’s father & his friends notice some very strange things happening around town as the days get closer to Christmas. The movie begins on the first day of December & continues to Christmas day. Young Pietari has one of those 25 days of Christmas calendars on his wall. The kind that has little windows representing each day of the month until Christmas day. Pietari is so afraid of the day arriving that he tapes & then staples the little window representing the 25th shut. He’s afraid of Santa, really afraid. Meanwhile, someone has killed off all of the Reindeer that were in the pen outside of his home save for two of them that got away & when the men of the town (actually only 4 of them) go to the excavation site to investigate & hopefully find out what happened to their Reindeer they find the site devoid of life & a very large hole in the mountain. It’s obvious that something was dug up from very deep inside the mountain. Something evil..something like….SANTA CLAUS!
“Rare Exports” is a very rare type of film indeed. It combines elements of “John Carpenter’s The Thing” & “Night Of The Living Dead” & any number of legitimate Christmas movies & weaves them into a funny & scary little parable about what the holiday means to children. It’s even a sort of coming of age story as well because our hero, young Pietari begins the film as a very innocent little waif who carries around his teddy bear & ends the film as the one person who figures out what is going on & also devises a way to stop Santa & his army of (very strange) Elves from wreaking havoc worldwide.
Director/writer Jalmari Helander has done something really special with this movie. He’s made what should be a perennial Christmas classic for horror fans that should appeal to non horror fans as well. His script is deadly serious even though the subject matter really can’t be taken seriously. It’s very forboding at times, but it’s also very funny as well. All of the actors take the materail very seriously also. I can’t imagine how they were able to keep such straight faces on during some (purposely) ridiculous scenes.
When Pietari’s father catches something in a bear trap & goes to investigate it, he finds a spindly old man who looks a lot like an emaciated Santa Claus. The man is wounded from falling into the trap & is pulled up & taken to a barn where Rauno & his friends are about to dismember(!) him to get rid of the evidence when they realize he’s still breathing despite his seemingly fatal wounds. It’s here where the film kicks into overdrive as the adults decide that they can ransom their victim for $85,000 (+ 22% tax) to the people who were looking for him anyway. You see, they think they have Santa but they don’t, they have one of his elves. And not only is he pissed off but his brother elves (who are all spindly, naked old men) are coming to rescue him & help Santa escape with the help of all of the radiators & hair dryers in the town. It sounds bizarre but it fits perfectly into the context of the film. You’ll just have to take my word on this acolytes…have I ever steered you wrong?
But where is Santa Claus? Oh he’s around & he ain’t the Santa we all know & love that’s for sure but you’ll have to see the movie to find out where he is. And see it you should because I have honestly never seen a film this bizarre yet entertaining in all my years of movie watching & I’ve seen thousands of movies. “Rare Exports” starts as a straight up horror film, turns into a whodunnit type of film & then turns into a sort of farcical comedy where everybody is just hilariously stupid (well, the adults anyway) & then goes back into a horror film before it becomes a coming of age story with young Pietari saving the day. Then it goes back into what I can only describe as….bizarre. The ending is reminiscent of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” in a sense. But all of these pieces fit perfectly in the story. There’s not a false note spoken in the script at all and in the end it all makes sense in a ridiculous sort of way. It’s really hard to describe the film any more than I have without ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet. But it is like no Christmas movie you’ve ever seen before, believe me.
There is a bit of violence in the movie, mostly off screen but there are scenes of animals being gutted for food, eviscerated reindeer & one poor soul gets an axe to his head but while these scenes aren’t too graphic, young children might get a bit unnerved by them.
All of the actors in the film are cast perfectly (there are no women in the cast). At first I thought young Pietari (Onni Tommila) was going to be a whiny little annoyance but he’s the glue that keeps the film from spinning wildly out of control. This is because he’s the only voice of reason in the film & eventually the adults turn to him for guidance. And he surprises himself when he takes charge as well because it’s something he didn’t know he had in him. He proudly tells an adult “Tell my father I did this”! as he’s about to do something totally ridiculous. But he wants his father to know that if he dies, he’s gonna die a heroes death. Remember he begins the film holding on to his teddy bear, he even talks to him. The adults start the film exactly the opposite of the children. They are the voices of reason & they are to be listened to without hesitation. Slowly the script has the adults & Pietari change places, almost imperceptibly at first but at about 3/4 of the film it’s all about Pietari & his very risky plan to take care of business.
And what about the other kids in town? Well there are a few but besides Pietari’s friend Juuso we don’t see any of them. Actually we do see them in a odd but effective sort of way. Apparently Santa isn’t too happy with these kids either. Pietari has to save them as well.
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” opens in limited release on Friday here in NY & gets a wider release next week as it will travel across the country during the month of December so all of you should get a chance to see it eventually. And see it you should. It’s got scares, tension, action & strangely enough lots of (intentional) laughs. The film really shouldn’t work but it does. A good script + a strong director + a cast willing to go balls out to sell the story to the audience = a very good movie indeed. I’m giving “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” 4 shrouds. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year & it’s definetely the strangest one I’ve seen this year for sure. But sometimes strange is good, it sure is in this case. Go see it when it comes to your nabe. You won’t be disappointed. Fuck, bring the kids! I’ll bet they get a kick out of it as well. Just remember, Santa Claus might be coming to your town & dropping down your chimney & if he’s anything like the Santa that’s portayed in this movie, You damn well better watch out….Cause he’s gonna find out who’s naughty & who’s nice.