Friday, January 7, 2011

"Rare Exports" is that rare Christmas horror treat


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
84 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

You better watch out for this Finnish import, "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale." Here's the “Badder Santa” with an instant cult following ahead, and the good kind unlike the controversial killer Santa movie, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984). It's a funky, creepy, coal-black, fiendishly entertaining holiday horror tale not for those who still believe in Santa. It's the day before Christmas in the far Arctic north, where a British archeological dig on the Russian border of Finland has 24 days to open up a burial mound. Young Pietari (Onni Tommila), who's spied on the drillers weeks earlier, lives on a reindeer ranch with his widowed dad, Rauno (Jorma Tommila). Then their Christmas gets rocked by the excavation on the mountain. Reindeer are killed. All the town's children go missing except Pietari. Potato sacks are stolen. The live cargo happens to be a bearded, scrawny, unclothed old man, whom Rauno and his hunter buddies see as a crazy old man, but Pierari knows it's Santa Claus entombed and out to punish the naughty. 

Based on the writer-director's own 2003 short film "Rare Exports Inc.," Jalmari Helander's first feature is also deliciously stylish and beautifully shot. Although it's Christmas with Gingerbread cookies, reindeer, and Santy Claus, this is "A Christmas Story" and a Santa origin story by way of "The Thing" that might've been written by the Brothers Grimm. The Coca Cola Santa is a fraud we're told. The film has a heart too, with a conclusion nice rather than all naughty. We're actually touched by Pietari's hardheadedness and obligation even as a little boy. The only slight disappointment is a disjointedness, probably from the slender run time; we only get a quick glimpse of Santa himself, indelibly played by Peeter Jakobi. "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is that rare horror package, à la "Let the Right One In," not from Hollywood. Have a merry Christmas. 

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