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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Director: Jalmari Helander
Cast: Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila
Santa Claus is coming to town – and cinemas – this December but you really won't want to sit on his lap. Finnish director Jalmari Helander is bringing the traditional legend of Father Christmas to the big screen, which tells of a sinister supernatural legend that existed long before Coca-Cola got their hands on him. The result is one of the most inventive, terrifying, hilarious and surprisingly feel-good films of 2010.
Europe seems to be churning out all of the best and darkest films these days: The Orphanage, Let The Right One In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and now Rare Exports. The film is set in the remote snowy landscapes of Finland, where an excavation is taking place deep in the mountains. A rich industrialist is digging in search of Father Christmas's remains – as you do – and it is not long before dead bodies are found, and the local farmers are rallying together to investigate.
Rare Exports is a prequel to Helander's infamous short films – Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (2005) – which have a huge cult following on YouTube. Both shorts are great, but Helander's first foray into feature length film-making really does allow him to shine. The increased running time – and budget – allows Helander to fully develop his characters, put together some superbly tense set-pieces and spend the entire first act building a sense of eerie foreboding across the stark wilderness.
Thankfully the very dark humour of the shorts remains throughout. This must be the first Christmas movie where the supposed heroes tie up Santa Claus and leave him hanging on a slaughterhouse meat hook. Rare Exports delights with a string of great gags just before the credits. Just make sure you avoid the YouTube shorts until then, if you want to keep the punch line a surprise.
Our hero, young Pietari (a brilliant Onni Tommila, son of his onscreen father Jorma) is responsible for much of the humour by trying to ward off Santa Claus through such ruses as stapling his advent calendar shut, and leaving bear-traps in the fireplace. He is also one of those plucky, heroic kids usually found in eighties children fantasy films – three of which we glimpsed in The Hole 3D last week – and, therefore, Pietari is armed, naturally, with hockey gear throughout.
These laughs and sight gags are welcome comic relief as there is a good streak of intense horror running throughout Helander's movie. Santa Claus is terrifying: naked, dirty, feral, emaciated and relatively comatose... until he smells a child. And there's a lot more than one. And wait until you see their boss.
It is hard to nail the exact appeal of Rare Exports. It is such a hodge-podge of great ideas, conflicting genres and convention reversals. None of this is surprising, though, considering Helander's self-cited influences: Signs, Pan's Labyrinth, ET and Fargo. As a result, we have farmers battling the supernatural, horned beasts, children saving the day and a fair amount of snow & meat grinders.
It is the scariest Christmas movie since A Nightmare Before Christmas, and one of the most original films you will see all year.
Just don't expect to get any sleep on Christmas Eve.