'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale': Better watch out, evil Santa is coming to this town
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is a fiendishly bizarre Finnish export about an evil Santa Claus and his naked band of marauding elves. Moody and full of dread, it's also great fun with glossy, childlike adventure and a keen visual style.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,' with Onni Tommila, Ilmari Järvenpää, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander. 80 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. In Finnish and English, with English subtitles. Varsity.
If you see only one fiendishly bizarre Finnish film about an evil Santa Claus and his naked band of marauding elves this holiday season, make it "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale."
Expanding on a concept he envisioned in a pair of short films, Jalmari Helander exploits the trappings of classic-fairy-tale storytelling with imagination and wit. Playing off an eerie and pervasive timelessness, this twisted take on Christmas lore establishes a patiently sinister tempo that creates truly disturbing undercurrents of dread. But with the added layers of an enchanting visual style and swelling musical score, there's also a delightful sheen of Spielbergian adventure and childlike wonderment, even though most kids will probably be completely freaked out.
In the far north of Arctic Lapland, the bleakness of the Christmas season has again fallen over the rural, dilapidated home of 10-year-old Pietari (Onni Tommila). When he and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) happen upon a secret archaeological dig on a nearby mountaintop, the holiday cheerlessness takes an even deeper dive into foreboding menace.
Pietari finds out that parents and storybooks have been tricking us about the true nature of Christmas' most illustrious icon of jollity when the remains of the real Santa Claus are excavated in a block of ice. This is the original Bad Santa, a malevolent brute who flays and murders naughty children, assisted by a gang of filthy ghouls who do his bidding (and have a debilitating weakness for gingerbread). Scampering through the frozen wasteland, the elves are creepy enough, but Santa is truly demonic. Though we get only a glimpse of two enormous horns protruding from the creature's defrosting tomb, it's clear that even nice children don't stand a chance.
"Rare Exports" is surprisingly languorous, allowing plenty of room for moody apprehension as the camera prowls around its remote surroundings with a minimum of cheap thrills. Sullen little Pietari mopes in the tracks of inept grown-ups who bungle about in fear and desperation until he finally unleashes an inner valor with a whimsical nod to the archetypal hero's journey. In a rally of wisdom and courage, his turnabout of boyhood triumph is spot on in bringing about a jubilantly perverse Christmas miracle.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org
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