Title: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Per Christian Ellefsen, Peter Jakobi, Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Onni Tommila, Risto Salmi, Rauno Juvonen, Ilmari Jarvenpaa
There’s nothing like a good tease every now and then. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is an 80 minute version of strip club teasing. Although one always want more, the majority of club patrons usually leave satisfied. This is the feeling when one will have after seeing this dark, humorous take on Santa and his elves. Having said that, even though the above gentlemen’s club reference rings true, there is the other aspect or reaction of being teased…Frustration.
Since the trailer hasn’t been publicized too much, and isn’t exactly the most accurate account of what actually happens in this flick, expect a longer than normal plot summary this time around.
It’s December 1st in northern Finland and there’s a corporation digging deep into a mountain. Led and funded by Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen), he alerts the crew to strictly follow detailed safety instructions (no smoking, no cursing, etc.). The crew has been left in the dark about what they’re looking for in the mountain, but Riley reveals that they are in fact unearthing Santa’s grave. Funny thing is, this doesn’t shock any of them. Meanwhile, two young boys in Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Jarvenpaa), have managed to sneak up the mountain and eavesdrop on Riley’s announcement. As they retreat, Pietari starts reading up on the real Santa Claus. And let’s just say it’s not a jolly story.
The tale then picks up on Christmas Eve and Pietari starts taking precautions around his isolated property, just a few miles away from the mountain. His father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) is preparing his slaughterhouse business for the season, where reindeer meat is the choice item. Rauno meets up with his two partners Amimo (Tommi Korpela) and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen), who are ready to stock up. When they get to the fields at the base of the mountain, they find a massacre. Pissed off, the trio blames the corporation for their loss and make their way up the mountain to demand retribution. Problem is, the place is a ghost town. Pietari warns his father that something else may be causing the problems on the mountain and around the small village. Besides the slaughtering of reindeer, children have been reported missing and choice items have been stolen.
Rauno doesn’t buy what his son is selling, until one of his wolf traps captures something it was not meant to. Unsure on how to handle the situation, Rauno gets everyone together as they try to brainstorm how to handle this unbelievable predicament.
First off, one should know that about 80% of this flick requires the reading of subtitles. The language is Finnish and the humor is more British than anything. Which translates into real dry and subtle. Labeling this flick as an action-comedy may be a bit of a stretch. Not much action is happening here until the ending sequence. The pacing is steady and methodically reveals more of the story at just the right time. One would assume that this script would venture into the realm of a campy slasher flick. To a certain extent, it should have. Having said that, the filmmakers wanted to keep this unique and avoid all clichéd moments. By choosing to do this, the response from the audience becomes bittersweet. Interest levels are kept high but the payoff at the end may not be worth it. It literally becomes a big tease as the highlighted character appears on screen.
The atmosphere created enables this to feel like a true Christmas story despite its twisted plot. Setting this in the mountains of Finland, and using a mixture of tight and wide cinematic shots, gives off an epic vibe. It helps when the musical score sounds like an unreleased Lord of the Rings track too. One might say that the filmmakers were big admirers of Peter Jackson’s style with regards to the cinematography and brief CGI work. Of course they weren’t working with the budget Jackson was given on the trilogy, but they got the very best out of what they had. Based on the production qualities and how they were executed, the filmmakers used the approach of working smarter as opposed to harder. They knew when to flex their CGI muscles in accordance with the script. For the most part though, this piece is stripped down and simple, for it relies on the surrounding scenery and set pieces.
Overall, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale lures one in with intrigue by taking a unique perspective on a polarizing figure. Instead of going with the overplayed spoof route, the script written turns into a social commentary that keeps the patent Christmas movie tone. When this element is on display, the audience will be wishing the intensity in the performances could enhance certain scenes. The three adult characters could have been more colorful with regards to their persona. Plus, the story never had that killer instinct (pardon the pun). It seems as if they were cautious in trying something monumental even though the set-up was begging for it. Still, if one can understand that this flick isn’t trying to take itself too seriously – aside from the production qualities – they won’t mind seeing (and reading) this amusing take on Santa and his scantly clad old elves.
Rating: 3 out of 5