Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an entertaining jaunt into the seasonal horror sub-genre. The premise is a fairly simple one: whilst drilling in the mountains a group of men discover the whereabouts of Santa Clause. Not the jovial chap that the Coca Cola company sold us but the real Santa Clause. The one that punishes naughty children by much worse means than a sack of coal; the devilish beast of legend. A young boy in the small, nearby town, played by the very talented-for-his-age Onni Tommila, is the only one to see the big picture as pretty nasty things start happening to reindeer and children start to go missing.
Director Jalmari Helander succeeds in delivering an engaging and, at times, truly heart-warming 8 star film primarily through the use of good old-fashioned character driven narrative and some rather clever camera work. Given the subject matter of this piece and given the generation to which Helander himself belongs there are inevitable parallels with classic 80s fantasy films. Helander has openly admitted in several interviews that the beloved Spielberg classic E.T. was a significant influence and there are defiitely one or two ‘Dante’ moments in there that anyone with a keen eye for cinema will be able to spot. Though comparisons are made easy it’s important to make it absolutely clear that Rare Exports is much, much more than a derivative slice of the multiplex pie; it’s the film all kids from the 80s have been waiting for for a very long time.
Perhaps one of the most winning turns from this film is the manner in which it harks back to the pre-gorn, golden days of horror when the onus was on suspense and tricking the audience into feeling a bit wary without really showing them anything that shocking. The use of over-the-shoulder-shots in the dark wilderness somewhere in Finland and the extreme close ups on a rather insidious looking Santa had me instantly making a mental note to brush my teeth every night before bedtime and to call home and finally admit to my parents that it was myself and not the dog who broke my dad’s most cherished possession: the record player way back in 1989.
The film did clearly have budgetary restraints but Helander has done an excellent job of not letting this show until he absolutely has to by which point, to be honest, you really don’t care. You’re too busy looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re not about to be whipped out of your seat by Santa for calling in sick when you didn’t really feel that bad and hoping beyond hope that somebody finally listens to the archetypal unlistened-to kid who is, typically, the only one who knows how to save the day. Being so young and indisputably cute Onni Tommila probably has little awareness of the many hundreds of unlistened-to young gentlemen who have saved the day before him and is thus able to put in a very straight performance that instantly wins over the crowd. Furthermore, the ruptured relationship between he and his father adds a touching truth to the picture making the fantasy elements all the more believeable.
A fantastic take on the Santa-is-not-your-friend sub-genre. See it fast before Hollywood re-make it!
Director: Jalmari Helander
Cast: Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila, Peeter Jakobi
Runtime: 84 min
Country: Finland, Norway, France, Sweden