Monday 17 December 2012
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Directed by Jalmari Helander
Icon Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: Some slight, seasonal spoilers in here.
To say that Rare Exports is a movie about an intimidating killer-Santa is to do it somewhat of an injustice. I was looking forward to seeing this since it came out two Christmases ago but, for one reason or another, this is the first time I’ve been able to get a look at it. I finally picked up a cheap Blu Ray of it (why are Blu Ray discs cheaper than DVDs now?) and gave it some time. I have to admit, I was expecting something highly comical and camp from a film with this basic kind of premise of a group of people trying to trap some kind of “menacing Santa” but, as it turns out, this is not some piece of fluff which trades in laughs, mistletoe and wine... it’s actually a pretty decent stab at a Christmas themed horror film which doesn’t quite go the whole hog, perhaps, as I might have liked, but is certainly worth some of your time.
I have a slight problem with the ending of the movie but that’s only because the first two thirds of this thing were done so well that he ending felt a little flat after the intensity of the build up. I might be wrong but I suspect the ending could have been a lot more what I’d wanted if the film had gotten a lot larger budget... as it is, it just didn’t quite live up to my expectations of it when it came time for the “final showdown”, so to speak.
The film starts beautifully with 24 days to go until Christmas and an archeological team finding something “big”. The sponsor behind the expedition gets all excited about what he thinks they are going to find in some ice, packed in sawdust, deep within a mountain. Cut to the main protagonist, Pietari and his “friend” watching the team of archeologists. They have an argument about Santa Claus and return to their town, not far from the mountain. Pietari lives with his dad, Rauno, and they are getting through the days since the loss of Pietari’s mother and attending to their annual business with a small group of co-workers, ready to round up the year’s reindeer and slaughter them for meat.
The opening credits roll and we are treated to images from Pietari’s research into the Santa Claus legend. These show a grim portrait of Santa from a time when he wasn’t the benevolent fellow that the passing centuries have made him out to be. He tracks down the naughty kids and gives them a good, bloody scourging or dumps them alive into cauldron’s of boiling oil etc. The illustrations on display paint a nasty portrait of the “real” myth of Santa and after this, the film continues with Pietari and the gang investigating a large number of butchered reindeer and the disappearance of the archeological team.
The tone is amazing in this movie. Although there are some small laughs to be had, I think it’s true to say that the film eschews a humorous approach to the subject matter in deference to a much straighter, horror film approach to the material. This took me by surprise and really worked well. I was reminded more of David Slade’s 30 Days Of Night or John Carpenter’s The Thing while I was watching the intense build up as opposed to anything lighter, although there is actually a thin strand of dark humour weaved throughout... the film manages to establish some true moments of suspenseful terror in its short running time and even has a little trick up it’s sleeve in terms of the identity of the real Santa Claus... but I’ll leave that aspect for you to find out for yourself.
It’s really well put together, very cleanly framed and edited... you won’t have any trouble following this from a visual standpoint and there are no jumps or stutters in plot logic or fictional duration to jar you out of the action. This, combined with a very nice, almost classic 70s Hollywood style scoring by composers Juri and Miska Seppä ensures that you are both entertained and kept on the edge of your seat right until the end of the movie. This is one of those kinds of films which pull you in and keep you there until the director’s done with you.
My one real complaint is, I expect, due to financial reasons. I was waiting to see a run, jump and chase fight between our bunch of “out of their depth” heroes and what I can only guess is a giant Santa-monster. Instead, what you get is a very budget conscious third act where the true face of our legendary antagonist is not actually seen and, in the end, is fairly quickly disposed of. There’s a series of little sequences comprising an epilogue of sorts, by which time the film is now going for full on laughs, which also reveal the reasoning behind the title of the movie which are quite good, on the whole, and have an irresistible charm to them... it just doesn’t make up for the full on, gory Santa carnage I’d been led to expect from the rest of the film. Still, a slightly unsatisfying ending is no real problem for a movie that maintains such a high standard of excellence all the way through and I’m really glad I went along for this particular celluloid sleigh ride.
Rare Exports is a truly great little movie and is not to be considered a trifle of a Christmas film by potential viewers. True, there are no women in it, for some reason, but I have a feeling that this movie is going to be shown a lot on late night TV as part of one channel or another’s Christmas package for a great many years to come. More than just a piece of tinsel designed to cheer you up, Rare Exports has a real bite to it that you’ll want to sample for yourself. Make sure you get around to taking a look... and checking it twice.