By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 15, 2018
Released Dec. 3, 2010
Languages: Finnish & English
Rated R – 1hr 24min
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Starring Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila, Peeter Jakobi
Blasting from an archaeological dig on a nearby mountain wreaks havoc on a rural village, but that’s nothing compared to the terror that has been unearthed – the real Santa Claus.
Rare Exports is a tense and creepy yet still playful subversion of folklore and Christmas tradition. This is not a satire or parody though – this is a straight-faced and legitimate depiction of Evil Santa.
Rare Exports may seem, at a glance, like just one of what are actually many ‘killer Santa’ flicks. Most are of the costumed maniac variety, originating from the ‘And All Through the House’ segment of the 1972 theatrical anthology Tales from the Crypt (which was remade as the pilot episode of the famous HBO series of the same name) and popularized by the controversial 1984 slasher Silent Night Deadly Night. A few attempts have been taken at making a horror villain of jolly ol’ Kris Kringle himself, but have generally been of the shlocky type, like 2005’s Santa’s Slay (with WWE wrestler Goldberg donning the red suit) or Dutch film Saint, also from 2010. This movie takes an ambitiously atmospheric approach to its portrayal of the pseudo-immortal omnipresent judgmental voyeur, who always sees when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and succeeds in its re-imagination of him as forboding antagonist.
The typical killer Santa. (from the HBO Tales from the Crypt episode ‘And All Through the House’)
The film plays out in three tonally distinct parts while still remaining consistent and coherent, which can be a tough presentation to execute. The first act puts the premise out there front and center, wisely avoiding any wasted effort to shoehorn mystery into the proceedings – we’re know we’re here for Evil Santa, so why mess around? We see the cold and tough existence of our protagonists – residents of a tundra village on the Finnish-Russian border that ekes out a living by culling and processing reindeer. While they’re the rugged survivalist types, they still find time to string up Christmas lights and bake gingerbreads, albeit quite joylessly. The tone takes a darker shift in the second act, as Santa Claus comes to town, portrayed with mute animalistic menace by Peeter Jakobi. Yet, Rare Exports can’t keep a straight face all the way through, but instead of descending into farce, it cooks up an absolutely bonkers action-movie climax, as it’s revealed that things aren’t really what they seem – they’re far worse.
All he wants for Christmas is your two front teeth. And the rest of your face too. And likely, the meat off your bones.
It can be a challenge to effectively present something so obviously ridiculous in a conceivably matter-of-fact way, and much of the credit goes to writer/director Jalmari Helander for a creative script and adeptly managing the absurd elements of the story into a satisfying narrative that never plays its proverbial hand too soon. It’s helped along by the father-son duo at the center of the film, real-life father and son Jorma and Onni Tommila. Their genuine connection and natural interaction provides a lot of what keeps the movie grounded, until it’s free to fly gloriously off the rails in a fun and enjoyable way.
Rare Exports has already earned a special place in the very niche and somewhat crowded subgenre of Christmas horror, set apart by both its more realistic tone and rather spectacular WTF finale. Yet, it’s still somewhat overlooked and underrated. It’s not a particularly dialogue-heavy film, so no need to be too put off by the subtitles – this deserves to be a perennial holiday favorite of horror fans everywhere.
On account of that Christmas-themed things have a tendency to become tradition, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale gets a rating of