I didn't think it possible, but I would appear to have hit the end of Christmas horror. Now I REALLY hope the world doesn't end in 2012 because I need that time for filmmakers to get busy with Santa sadists and carnivorous reindeer. Unless the world ends before the holiday season and then I'm okay.
I need some time to think about this.
Quick Plot: A young boy named Pietari lives with his widowed reindeer herding father Rauno near big and ominious Korvatunturi Mountain, the secret burial place of the child-killing Santa and his army of scrawny (and naked) old elves. After the season’s pack of would-be reindeer meat is found slaughtered, Rauno and his partners embark on a mission to recover their salaries through alternate methods...caging up a mysterious old man who himself has been stuffing kids in potato sacks and offering him back for a Santa-worthy ransom.
If you’re like me, then you probably expect a good ol’ fashioned killer Claus flick coming atcha with subtitles and Santa blood. I’d been hearing about Rare Exports for over a year and assumed a film making these kinds of overseas waves was gaining popularity because it was this generation’s Silent Night Deadly Night.
|Or Part 2|
It’s not, but I’m happier than Rudolph at a rave to say it’s something equally special. Much like the 6 Films To Keep You Awake’s The Christmas Tale, Rare Exports combines a neat balance of whimsy and terror to tell a completely new story of its own. Watching 198 pointily bearded senior citizens chase a pile of children through Finnish snow is genuinely scary, while tender moments between the imaginative Pietari and his stern father give us the groundwork we need in a holiday movie.
Now as I write these compliments on Rare Exports, I may mislead you into thinking it’s a marvel that earns the same amount of love from me as Silent Night Deadly Night 2. It doesn’t quite, mostly because it’s a slow-moving tale (closer, if you will, to Silent Night Deadly Night 3) that takes a tad too much time in its first act to take us anywhere. While it seems to model itself on John Carpenter’s The Thing (complete with no female presences in the film, something that actually works quite well) Rare Exports just dilly dallies to the point of audience/my boredom.
Perhaps my expectations were just misplaced--after a featured article in Fangoria, I assumed I'd be seeing a red and green bloodbath--and thus confused my mood to the point of not knowing which direction the sleigh was headed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rare Exports works better upon second viewing for that reason alone.
As Pietari, young Onni Tommila has a wonderfully natural charisma that keeps you on his side. It helps that Jorma Tommila, playing his (real life?) dad has an effectively gruff but deeply loving hold on his character, creating a believably fractured family unit with ease
Did I mention the pacing?
Helicopter rides are best enjoyed while dangling
You're never too old to play with dolls, at least not in Lapland
Hair dryers are cutting edge technology in Russia*
In the year of Super 8 and Attack the Block, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale joins the category of kid-centric adult films made for genre fans. In my opinion, Super 8 failed because it couldn’t commit to telling the story entirely from the children’s points of view, while Attack the Block soared because of its small-scope approach. Rare Exports finds the right balance in approaching a ridiculous and big story--the TRUTH about Santa Claus--by creating a solid family unit and a small but well-defined cast of supporting characters. We know and care about everyone onscreen, and that in itself makes Rare Exports something worth watching. The film is far slower than I wanted it to be, but it has a pretty neat plot that eventually reveals itself in a funny, scary, and genuinely unique way. It might not have everything you want from Christmas horror, but it’s a different kind of holiday treat that might age nicely upon future winter seasons.
*As someone who lived in Russia and owned a hair dryer, I don't think this is actually true