Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale (2010)

Rare Exports is a genre-defying piece of work – part children’s story, part horror film, part comedy, part intense thriller and part absurd drama. It is sweet, funny, dark, scary and genuinely loveable. It may feel lacking in places, but it’s wonderfully unique. Watch it, because it’s hugely entertaining.

It’s a month before Christmas and a group of American scientists are in Finland, digging up a grave. The grave is 500 metres under a giant man-made hill, and buried within are the remains of a legend – Santa Claus. Young Finnish boy Pietari watches with growing concern as the scientists get closer to uncovering the body of this centuries-old mythical Father Christmas. Except this isn’t the red-coated, Coca-Cola chugging borderline paedophile we all know and love, this is the REAL Santa Claus. And you better watch out, because it is not his tomb that’s buried deep in the earth. It’s his cage.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is fantastically created. It is stylish, haunting, amusing, beautiful and heart-warming. There are some truly disturbing scenes, some nasty moments and parts that will leave a large, wide smile slapped across your face. It is enchanting, intriguing and a thousand other adjectives that promote the eclectic genre-merging feel this film encapsulates – it has touches of The Coen Brothers, early M. Night Shyamalan and even Spielberg’s E.T! It is truly unique.

We follow the journey of young Pietari as he realises the fresh danger this unleashed legend may cause – butchered reindeer, footprints on snowy roofs, missing children – yet it is only the beginning of an unimaginable threat. One morning Pietari’s father finds something in his wolf-trap. Something with a beard…

This brief synopsis makes Rare Exports sound like a dark horror, but it’s not. It does have elements of horror, but because our journey is with the young Pietari it always keeps the film focused on the wonder of it all. It is a film with a solid, good heart at its centre and a totally bonkers premise that works surprisingly well. There are brilliant moments – alarm clock keys, chained up old man, the giant pit – and a genuinely surprising twist.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale does feel awkward at times, perhaps because it incorporates so many genres, and occasionally it simply fails to meet expectations. There are moments when the horror could have been truly disturbing, the tension-cranked up and the violence more visually brutal. You may want a little more (at least a horror audience might), but since Rare Exports is essentially a dark children’s tale it cannot be too horrific or brutal or terrifying. It works – it’s very disconcerting at times – but could’ve been even better than it already is. Is this a criticism? Yes, but a very minor one.

Written and Directed by Jalmari Helander, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is the prequel to two award-winning online short called Rare Exports Inc (2003) and Rare Exports Inc: Safety Instructions (2005), which have had more than 1 million YouTube downloads. These shorts are not essential pre-feature viewing, but well worth a watch once you’ve seen Helander’s full-length masterpiece. And it is a masterpiece. It’s utterly unique in style, theme and feel – like an 80’s family adventure film mixed with horror-fantasy.

Onni Tommila as the young Pietari is excellent throughout – utterly believable as the child who is scared of Santa Claus, and with a very good reason. His performance is faultless and he’s genuinely likeable. Brave, astute, bold and a little crazy, he’s a great hero. Everyone within Rare Exports is excellent and their characters fully formed, providing interesting dynamics and thoroughly watchable scenes throughout. “Santa” (Peeter Jakobi) is also exceptional, but to describe why would definitely spoil the surprise…

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is great. It will raise a smile, the hairs on your neck and a sense of elation that few films can manage nowadays. It might occasionally miss the mark, but this is a perfect Christmas film to watch if you like your Christmas dark, amusing, twisted and heart-warming. Rare Exports is a fantastic piece of work – seek it out.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

One Comment on “Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dave Scullion, Dave Scullion. Dave Scullion said: CINEMA this weekend? See MACHETE http://bit.ly/fetelo, MONSTERS http://bit.ly/hoyYFu, & RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE http://bit.ly/fNNESQ [...]

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