Rare Exports is a Finnish fantasy film directed by Jalmari Helander which is shortly to join the likes of Bad Santa and Elf on your list of alternative Christmas films. Originally released in 2010, this week sees the general release of Helander’s take on the Santa Claus myth on DVD and Blu-Ray, just in time to generate some all important buzz to capture the Christmas market before the big chill sets in and mentioning the C word once again becomes a cardinal sin for months on end.
Set in an isolated community on the Finnish border with Russia, where the annual reindeer cull is threatened by the strange goings on in a nearby mountain, Rare Exports is a film that keeps you guessing. Although from the outset, with the discovery of the ‘largest burial mound in history’ and two children’s speculation about the existence of the real man behind the Santa Claus myth, it seems reasonably clear where the action is heading, the film avoids the obvious. The setup, with its isolated setting, teasing images of the monstrous demon-like Santa Claus of folklore, seems to point towards the traditional gore-fest of films such as Dead Snow and The Thing, but what Helander delivers is a fantasy action film that sits more comfortably alongside the likes of J.J. Abrams’s summer blockbuster Super 8 and the children’s adventure films of the 80s from which Abrams drew his inspiration.
The central concept of a malevolent being, buried in the ice for and age, uncovered by unwitting scientists is not exactly a new one, neither is the idea that figure of fairytale and myth are as innocent as the childhood stories that bear their names, but the hints that the once benevolent childhood figure of Santa Claus was in fact a tormentor of children, trapped at the heart of a mountain by a fearful community give Rare Exports an edge of your seat thrill, as we wait for the full horror to reveal itself.
Some ominously large footprints in the snow, followed by a field of brutally slaughtered reindeer and the mysterious theft of the town’s radiators all keep the suspense coming, but it is the central relationship between father and son Rauno and Pietari, played so convincingly by Jorma and Onni Tommila that really provides the film with ample substance and a nice emotional context that reminds us exactly why Christmas is so important in the first place: family.
As the action progresses, so too does the plot, which goes from suspenseful chiller to a fight for survival, as the dangerous old man is discovered and begins to wreak havoc on our unwitting heroes, who - like the viewer - have an even bigger surprise in store, just as everything seems to be figured out nicely.
I highly recommend, Rare Exports. This is an example of a foreign film that will appeal to the Western market thanks to a familiar theme and setup, and a very impressive overall look despite its modest budget. It’s a shame the film carries a 15 rating, as this could perhaps appeal to a slightly wider audience so easily enthralled by the aforementioned Super 8, but that shouldn’t stop you tracking it down, and for once, being in on the ground floor of an inevitable cult hit.
Robert Barton-Ancliffe is determined to avoid being on the naughty list this year.