Director – Jalmari Helander
Cast – Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Per Christian Ellefsen, Ilmari Järvenpää, Peeter Jakobi, Jonathan Hutchings, Risto Sal
Release Year – 2010
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Holiday horror films are a favorite of mine because I find them very fun to watch, so much that I care not if the film matches the time/season of the year as long as it gives me good horror. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a Finnish horror film I had been dying to get my hands on for quite some time, ever since I was exposed to its awesome plot via its debut online trailer. Well, the day has finally come where I can say that I gave this flick a watch, and while it was not as superbly awesome as I expected it to be, it is still a darn good watch that gives us a unique storyline, great direction, and positive horror as well.
Deep within the Korvatunturi mountains lies one of the world’s greatest mysteries, one that we enjoyed as children yet quickly grew out of when we found out he wasn’t real…or was he? When a research team’s expedition into the mountains unearths the long-buried Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, all hell breaks loose within a small Finnish town as children begin to disappear and strange occurrences plague the town. A young boy, Pietari, and his father must now save the town and the children from the evil that is the real Santa Claus, not the fraud seen on Coca Cola merchandise, but the savage child killer who has now been unleashed from his earthly tomb.
This is not the first horror film to give us a “killer” Santa, and it may not be the last as long as DTV films like Santa’s Slay continue to appear, but I will say that out of all the Santa horror films this one is the most original. From the get-go I was hooked on this story by co-writer/director Jalmara Helander thanks to its interesting premise and the film’s positive pacing. For a film running at around 84 minutes, under 80 of them being the actual storyline, the story does come with a bit of development, and I honestly did not mind it one bit. It is the development that sold the story to me, and along with it came many unique ideas regarding the usage of Santa in this film. I loved that Santa was painted as a vehement child killer who would not just whip naughty children to death but whip them until even their bones were shattered to untraceable pieces, and Helander even pokes fun at the typical jolly, red-cheeked marketable Santa that we often associate with the name. The first half of the flick focuses on the mystery element behind Santa, and things then get creepy when he is finally brought to screen in awesome fashion. I was honestly surprised at the route the story took from then on out, and every twist and turned added to my amazement, although I was not pleased with all of them. One of the “twists” we get towards the beginning of the third act was a truly surprising one that I did not see coming, and I embraced it due to its awesomeness but eventually found it unfavorable given it never amounted to anything great. I’d prefer not to give any spoilers regarding this(shoot me an email if you must), but I am sure that once you give this a watch you’ll know what I am talking about. That was the biggest of my several gripes with the story, with the second being that I do wished that we would have been given more horror overall. The film is sometimes referred to as a “comedy”, and while it isn’t an outright comedy it does have a fun element in the vein of The Monster Squad and other enjoyable horror films involving young children. My last gripe is the Hollywood-esque elements that were thrown in during the third act of the film, ideas that were pretty damn ridiculous and could only happen in a mindless imaginary atmosphere created in a Hollywood story, but somehow the ideas made their way to Finland it seems. I won’t go as far as to say these scenes were “bad” scenes, but had we been given more horror I would have gladly overlooked these cheezy feel-good ideas, like Pietari riding the net on the helicopter as it spanned the countryside, that came somewhat out of nowhere and did nothing to aid the story. Simply put, it was these three flaws that kept Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale from being the truly spectacular horror flick that I expected it to be.
Jalmara Helander’s direction is great, and he expertly sells the film with amazing visuals that take full advantage of Finland’s barren/solemn landscape, creating an atmosphere perfect for the evil events that would soon occur. His sets are amazing and his gloomy cinematography also aided in the atmosphere, all of which boiled down to the truly creepy and well-used Santa Claus. I loved the Santa was not some fat jolly guy but a skinny and creepy looking old man who’s eyes and facial expressions gave me genuine creeps every time he saw a child. We are given good gore and some decent kills, although the kills were not full-frontal as I wished but instead were inferred and occurred in very quick fashion, something I did not mind when I saw how awesome they were executed. Santa’s elves/helpers were also a positive addition to the experience, and they provided their own creep and chaos despite some of them coming in the form of CGI, but that was mainly due to how many of them they were and the high costs of filming such scenes in live-action format. The acting performances were positive, although I will admit that I really did not like how our two lead characters, Pietari and his father were executed. I found Pietari properly naïve but unfavorably annoying, and his father was cold and unlikable for 99% of the movie, but he did have a sweet beard.
Overall, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an awesome horror film that gives us a truly unique story that I have never seen used in the genre. Great direction/execution compliment the story, and despite film not having as much horror as I wanted the horror that we DO get is good and worthwhile. There are several strong flaws that kept this piece from being a spectacular horror film, but in the end this Finnish horror film was good enough to overcome them enough to deliver a positive experience for all, especially those looking for a unique horror film. I recommend you check this one out.