Review: Rare Exports – A Christmas Tale

Director: Jalmari Helander

Stars: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela

***originally written 4 January 2011***

Better late than never, ey? The time to see this movie has possibly passed. But I committed to reviewing the movies I saw at the cinema, and last week, thanks very kindly to a couple friends, I was able to catch Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

This is not a Christmas movie to watch with the whole family. Especially, especially not the children. Show this movie to children and they will hate you. Their parents will hate you. Actually, I can think of a few kids who would probably love it. But their parents WILL HATE YOU.

What we’re dealing with here is a festive movie that is anything but festive, in which Santa Claus is to be feared. Where setting a man-trap in a fireplace on Christmas Eve is not an unresonable activity. Rare Exports is a prequel to a couple of short films that I must admit I haven’t seen. I’ve heard nothing but praise for them. I’ll seek them out. If this movie’s goal is to gather more exposure for those shorts then it is a success. If, that is, Rare Exports needs any more ‘exposure’…

So, now that I’ve jabbered a little incoherently, what’s it all about? In a nutshell, young Pietari lives on a reindeer ranch with his father. They live in a small community that survives thanks to the money they make farming reindeer for their meat. They also live close to a large mountain where an American team of explorers are trying to unearth a buried object of power. Typically enough for Americans, they’re using explosives to get to it. Pietari comes to the conclusion, thanks to a dusty-o’l-book, that the object of power is the original Santa Claus; a terrifying beast, not the ‘Coca-Cola’ version more widely celebrated.

Cue not-so-festive festive horror movie. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is always good. You can take that to the bank. But it’s an odd film that is good in three different ways. It begins rather deftly and beautifully. Snow-covered landscapes and gentle scoring that hark back a couple of years to the subtle touches of Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In. Once the story kicks in and the stakes are raised, the film shifts in tone to a more stoney-faced, blackly comic John Carpenter mode, with minimal tension-building score to match. This terrific middle section feels like The Thing as re-imagined by The League of Gentlemen; palpably tense but with a glint in the eye. Then for the final stretch, the film suddenly lurches into full-blown parody mode, with young Pietari blossoming into a kind of 10 year-old Kurt Russell, the tiny king of his own action movie, ready to sarcifice himself heroically for the good of his neighbours. There’s also a lot of geriatric full-frontal nudity (hence the ‘exposure’ remark).

I’ll repeat. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is always a good movie. But it’s a tonally fractured one. Each of the three parts described above are achieved very well, and work very well. Much of the final fifteen minutes is hysterical. But it doesn’t particularly feel as though it gels together perfectly. These shifts in tone are big lurches. The film expects you to go with it. If you do go with it, you’ll have a fun ride for 77 minutes – short for a feature, but not so short as to make you feel short-changed. If not, well, what were you expecting? Dickens?

6 of 10

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