With A film production values and B film finesse, the Finnish action comedy Rare Exports delivers a great contribution to the holiday horror subgenre. Both a father-son bonding picture and a Santa-skewering satire, this oddball tale of life on a snowy mountainside is consistently upbeat and surprising, with action intensity that stays sturdily at Goonies level. While older kids could get a kick out of this one, it's primarily a confection for teens and adults, specifically those who savor irreverent humor. After all, what's Santa if not a god who delivers presents once a year? Oscilloscope should expect good returns on this and a possible future as a holiday staple.
Young Pietari (Onni Tommila) lives in a small town at the foot of one of the Korvatunturi Mountains of Finland. Hard-bitten Nordic men, as tested and harsh as the climate they endure, lead the community. This is a town in which children need to be protected from roaming wolves; the brand of intelligence and practical know-how required to survive here can't accommodate whimsy or childhood fancies. In such conditions we can see why Pietari doesn't want to divulge information about an excavation he thinks will unearth the original Santa, which isn't the "Coca Cola crap" reinvention we all know and love. The "real" Santa is an evil, horned, child-eating beast that sends children into tears, fits and bedwetting, all before he stuffs them into his sack.
We're introduced to Pietari's father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), as he builds a wolf trap. Though Pietari's best friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) is doing everything in his power to look like a bad boy, he's tells Pietari they can't reveal the excavation to their fathers because it would require them to confess to trespassing. As Christmas approaches and the advent calendar opens its doors, mysterious disturbances grip the town. When the annual reindeer hunt goes awry and threatens to bankrupt the community, all the fathers assemble to seek restitution from the excavators, but approaching the excavation site they find no one. Clearly those diggers were on the naughty list.
When we meet Rauno he's sharpening stakes for a wolf trap and his comfort with deadly tools is off-putting. The town's butcher, he protects his son from his bloody trade and regularly reminds Pietari to stay inside because the wolves could get him. Here, physical strength and endurance aren't just a survival skill against naturally occurring menace; they're a virtue against evil. It's similar to the German mountain climbing adventures that made Leni Riefenstahl famous: the natives are pit against the elements proving both are sturdy, unified, natural and, by extension, inherently good. If that's true, what then should we make of the ending, in which the town finds a way to refinance after the hunt that brought them near bankruptcy? Good and evil like to trade costumes in horror films, and in this case their costumes weren't so different to begin with.
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Ilmari Järvenpää, Rauno Juvanen and Tommi Korpela
Director: Jalmari Helander
Screenwriters: Jalmari Helander and Juuso Helander
Producers: Anna Björk, François-Xavier Frantz and Petri Jokiranta
Genre: ACtion/Horror/Comedy; Finnish-language, subtitled
Running time: 83 min
Release date: December 3 ltd.