Let’s start this review with a very important point that you should be made aware of from the very beginning: Rare Exports probably isn’t what you think it is. That’s not to say that it’s a bad film or a big disappointment. It’s simply a movie that you have to go into without expectations, so please try to forget any clips or trailers that you’ve already seen mismarketing the movie as some festive horror or callback to the heyday of 1980s Joe Dante movies. It falls closest to the latter, and it’s a lovely little film, but it’s also really just a light and sweet confection all leading up to a relatively amusing punchline.
Santa wasn’t always the jolly old guy in a red suit that we all know and love today. He was a monster who used to take away naughty children and deal with them in ways far worse than just giving them a lump of coal for Christmas. Thankfully, he may have been dealt with many years ago and encased in a large block of ice in the middle of a mountain. Which means no good can come of the situation when that same mountain is excavated using explosives and some strange discovery is made. While the events on the mountain are angering local reindeer herders (who blame the noise and work for alarming the animals and sending more predators in their direction) things get even worse when a lot of animals are found killed, causing quite an impact on the local economy. A trap is set but it catches more than just a wolf. The locals better start hoping that their names aren’t on the “naughty” list.
You see, even reading my own synopsis of the movie has me thinking that I’ve pushed it as some fantastical horror movie. Or, at the very least, a thriller. The film does have some moments of darkness and tension but it’s more of a unique take on roots of Father Christmas. Kind of a Fatman Begins, if you like.
Directed by Jalmari Helander (who also helped to write the thing), the film certainly shows that the man behind it has a confidence in his own vision. It helps that this is a development from the ideas put forward by Jalmari and Juuso Helander in two previous short films exploring the same premise. The director knew that a fanbase had grown and stayed true to the essence of the work while expanding things to welcome and please newcomers.
The acting is all very good, from a cast of people I don’t recognise at all (so my apologies if I should) – young Onni Tommila is really the star of the movie and gives an excellent performance but Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen and everyone else do just fine.
There’s some quality to the movie that’s hard to put your finger on. It has a great balance of pitch-black and snow white, a nice blend (reminiscent of another recent favourite from near that part of the world, Trollhunter) of fantastical elements placed into the real world and a nice sharing of youthful naivete and elderly wisdom, though the naivete seems to be the most admired quality. Don’t give yourself expectations and don’t listen to others trying to compare it to different movies, it’s an enjoyably different type of film, albeit one without all that much substance to it.
DIRECTOR: JALMARI HELANDER
WRITER: JALMARI HELANDER, JUUSO HELANDER, PETRI JOKIRANTA, SAMI PARKKINEN
STARS: ONNI TOMMILA, JORMA TOMMILA, TOMMI KORPELA, RAUNO JUVONEN
RUNTIME: 84 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FINLAND, NORWAY, FRANCE, SWEDEN