Dir. Jalmari Helander (2010)
A team of drillers in Finland uncover the ancient burial ground of Santa Claus. Unfortunately, he’s not quite the jolly old Saint he was expected to be.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
We’re kicking off our 2022 celebration of the Yuletide Season with a movie that is new to me, one that I’ve been meaning to get around to for years but just never bothered to watch. If you’re anything like me, you’re an ardent fan of both horror and Christmas, and those movies that somehow perfectly blend the two film genres are treasured gems that you only break out once a year to celebrate the holidays. While I believe that we’ve curated a pretty good list for our First Annual 13 Days of Christmas, I was blown away by realizing that I started with one of the better entries in the genre. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a heartwarming story of the real Santa Claus, who originated in the Great White North of Scandinavia as a creature who punished children who were bad and didn’t seem to have a whole lot for children who weren’t. While Krampus has gained much more attention recently due to some high profile films, the original Santa Claus is just as much of a badass, kidnapping children who misbehave and murdering any reindeer he happens to come across, all while employing an army of nude, adult elves. Sounds fun, right?
The film starts with a group of men who are excavating the Korvatunturi Mountains in Lapland (or Finland, if you’re nasty.) They’re looking for an ancient secret, one that is buried deep within the mountain and will require a metric ton of dynamite to uncover. When the workers all disappear one night, Pietari (Onni Tommila), a young boy who snuck out to watch part of the dig, discovers that things are about to get real Finnish Christmas-y real quick, as the annual round-up of reindeer, which his village uses for meat and as a local business that keeps the town afloat, discovers the remains of said reindeer scattered throughout the snow. Things go from bad to worse when a nude adult male accidentally falls into Pietari’s family’s illegal wolf pit, a trap that is filled with spikes to help protect the family from rogue wolves. I’ll leave the rest of the plot for your viewing, but suffice to say, Rare Exports delivers an unusual twist on a classic Christmas story and helped spread the real meaning of Christmas to the rest of the world.
The locale of the film lends itself perfectly to this type of story, becoming sort of a cross between Krampus and The Thing. The snow is as abundant as the elves, creating an isolating ambiance that makes the dreadful circumstances even less appealing. The largest feeling the audience is left with is that Finland kinda sucks, as this is definitely not somewhere I’d ever want to live. It’s beautiful, though: the mountains are like ones you’d see in National Geographic, the snowy countryside as you’d only see it in pictures. The mixture between English, spoken by the excavators, and Finnish by everyone else is nice for accessibility, giving the film an international appeal that will make it easier for some to tolerate the subtitles. As someone who is practically deaf and needs subtitles for almost everything I watch, reading captions for a foreign language film is never something that bothered me, but I know that it’s a huge turnoff for a lot of the movie-watching crowd. Rest assured, this one is well worth the watch (and read), and it’s going to become an instant holiday classic as readily as it has become a cult classic.
The story is great here, one of the more truly unique Christmas films that I’ve come across. The acting is also pretty good, as Tommila does a great job as young Pietari and all of the adult roles are filled with the expected gruff, outdoorsy types who initially don’t believe Pietari but eventually come around. There’s a surprising amount of swearing and nudity (though don’t look for any titillation here), so this isn’t a movie you really want to show young kids, but it fits perfectly into your holiday rotation of holiday classics that are as creepy as they are uplifting. While I do think the movie’s resolution lends itself to a sequel, perhaps one dealing a bit more with the actual Santa Claus creature rather than his elves, it’s a great story that you haven’t seen anything like before. It’s streaming free on Tubi right now but has subtitles, so this is one you want to check out after you’ve finished your decorating and can pay full attention.
Who this movie is for: Christmas-holics, Deadpan comedy fans, People who wished mall Santas displayed more nudity
Bottom line: Heartwarming and intense at times, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is well deserving of the cult classic label that it earned shortly after it’s release in 2010. There are some creepy scenes throughout, but Tommila’s Pietari is just so damn cute that it’s worth a watch even for those who generally don’t like the creeps. As the film gives a unique take on the standard Christmas movie and helps to explore more of the lore behind the international roots of the holiday, Rare Exports is a great movie to add to your holiday lineup. Give it a shot and check it out while it’s still streaming for free on Tubi.