Rare Exports A Christmas Tale
Block up the chimney, Santa's not happy in Finland's festive answer to Let the Right One In
Queen's Film Theatre’s seasonal treat for horror buffs is a darkly humorous yarn concerning the supernatural legend of Santa Claus. Believe me, after seeing Finnish shocker Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, you’ll be blocking up your chimneys, throwing away your stockings and hiding the sherry and mince pies.
In director Jalmari Helander’s debut feature (the title’s meaning is revealed in a deliciously absurd epilogue) Father Christmas resembles a cross between Gary Glitter and a goat. Not someone you want to be writing letters to.
The film concerns a small community of reindeer herders whose winter harvest is disturbed by excavations in the local mountains. In the Arctic wilderness of Lapland’s Korvatunturi fell, a team of scientists have uncovered a secret that has lain buried for hundreds of years.
It turns out that Santa Claus – or ‘Joulupukki’, as the locals know him – is not nice, but rather naughty, and was entombed here by the indigenous Sámi people centuries before.
Now, a profit-hungry foreign businessman – played with scenery-chewing abandon by Norwegian actor Per Christian Ellefsen – has ordered his team of workers to dig open what he describes as ‘the largest burial mound in the world’.
1,595 feet later, the peace and tranquillity of this remote and beautiful part of Europe is under threat. Only local boy Pietari (Onni Tommila) suspects what is going on. He has read enough dusty old books to know to pad his bottom with cardboard and to stay on guard at his bedroom window with a shotgun.
Pietari’s suspicions are, of course, dismissed by his gruff elders, particularly concerned dad Jauno (Jorma Tommila). A scene around the dinner table, with father and son munching gingerbread ‘just like mum used to make’, recalls the famous scene in Jaws in which Chief Brody shares a moment with his children before confronting the shark.
The similarities with Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster don’t end there. In classic genre style, the first sign of something untoward is when the townsfolk’s livestock start showing up hacked to bits and half-eaten. Then, more disturbingly, children begin to go missing.
If Pietari is the Chief Brody figure, then everyone else is the doubting Amity mayor. Once the herders do accept what’s happening – and it takes some time and several chilling set pieces before they do – the movie steps up a gear, even throwing in some social commentary about ‘the Coca-Cola Santa’.
Like South Korea’s The Host, Spain’s REC and Sweden’s Let the Right One In, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale again proves that there is much more to modern horror than US slasher sequels.
Originating from two award-winning short films that spawned an online cult phenomenon, Helander’s movie is a macabre blend of John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Hans Christian Andersen. It is certainly the best Christmas-themed horror-comedy set on the Finnish-Russian border this writer has seen, but it is more than that. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is one of the most effective and enjoyable terror flicks of the past ten years.