What does every little boy want for Christmas? Surely dying at the hand of St. Nick has to be right at the top of the list. That, and finding that all the little boys and girls in town have been kidnapped in sacks and readied for a bizarre sacrifice.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a deliciously mischievous fairy-tale horror film, starts out with the premise that the Santa Claus we all know and love, who slides down the chimney to deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls, is a myth. Pietari knows this, cynically so. He sits in the attic of his father’s tiny shack at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, itself the source of an actual Father Christmas legend, braced against the cold, a book of Santa Claus legends open on his lap. The children in the pictures are roasted, beaten, and otherwise torturously dispatched by an evil Kris Kringle. This is the real story.
Pietari and his doltish best friend learn by stealth that a powerful conglomerate has unearthed something deep within the mountain. Pietari becomes convinced it’s Santa Claus of an evil variety, an idea met with great scoffing by the town. Soon, however, Pietari’s father’s reindeer herd is mysteriously slaughtered in toto. What animal could have done it? Father sets an illegal trap in the ground in the hope of catching the predator. The next morning, he finds…something…human, but not quite, injured in the trap and Christmas quickly turns black as stocking coal.
All of this is told with great style by Jalmari Helander, who wrote and directed based on his award-winning series of short films. I can’t reveal what is found in the trap, or its purpose for being there, but I assure you the entire extended revelation is handled with deft humor and a sharp eye for satire. Helander weaves some surprisingly bittersweet moments into his film: Pietari’s father, his eyes tired and weary, is a widower doing his best as a single father, especially to a too-curious son; but his grief is evidently still fresh and overwhelming. The film’s R rating and horror-holiday theme are sure to limit its audience, which is a shame. This is a witty, well-directed film with more heart than horror. There is very little blood to speak of, no nudity, only fleeting foul language. Full disclosure: there are hundreds of tiny CGI penises, but you’d have to see the movie to understand why that isn’t nearly as offensive as it sounds. To be frank, I can’t understand why a well-adjusted 14- or 15-year-old with a healthy sense of humor couldn’t enjoy Rare Exports as a fun little Christmas treat.