RARE EXPORTS (2010) - A Review
Perhaps I should start by saying I don’t do Christmas. I’ve often joked that every year at Halloween I become Jewish and stay that way until the New Year – just to be sure. That being the case, generally I’m not a big one for Christmas movies.
But this year, our local independent theater played a Christmas movie that was well worth seeing. I’m talking about the up-and-coming cult Christmas favorite from Finland, Rare Exports (2010). This is a film I recommend seeking out no matter what time of year it is.
I went into this knowing just a bare (and somewhat incorrect, as it turned out) sketch of the plot, and assumed it would be a somewhat campy creepshow. Well, oops! It is, in fact, a very engaging and polished creepshow, with occasional touches of dry humor, and is very much more spooky than kooky.
The plot (minus some spoilers) goes essentially like this: Evil corporate interests find the site where the actual physical remains of Santa are buried (Korvatunturi Mountain), and start digging. Only, it turns out that, despite being buried for centuries, Santa’s not dead (“There’s a heartbeat!”) and, once his burial mound has been breached, the children in the nearby village start disappearing. Santa, it seems, is not the jovial, child-friendly personality we’ve been led to believe he is.
Now, I don’t know if some or any of the supposedly ancient lore about Santa presented here is real, but I do know that the creativity and talent that went into making this film is. Co-writer and director Jalmari Helander has turned out a film that is original, scary, dryly funny, and visually striking – all on a budget of around $3 million dollars. (And Hollywood has taken notice, since next year we can see his “big” picture debut, Big Game, an action film starring the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson - as the President of the United States - as well as the young star of Rare Exports, Onni Tommila.)
Rare Exports straddles a couple of genres that don’t often end up in the same neighborhood. On one hand, with young Tommila as the main character and the hero, this is very much a kid’s film, full of adults that have to learn to believe what the children already know. On the other hand, this is a dark and somewhat disturbing horror film, with a fair amount of blood and some genuinely creepy moments. It’s not a grim film, but it is spiritual kin to the darkest of Grimm’s fairy tales. I think that children below a certain age would find it pretty upsetting. But for kids who are all grown up, and who aren’t sensitive about the portrayal of Christmas (Fox News viewers beware!) this is a film that offers much to enjoy.
I need to say it again: I was so struck by the creativity of the storytelling here. It is in such stark contrast to the soul-deadening formulaic crop of crap that American studios churn out so relentlessly. Yes, there are explosions here. Yes, there is some CGI work here. But it’s done in the service of a genuinely original vision, not some remake with a number at the end of the title. Hopefully Helander will be able to maintain some creative control of his projects as he moves up in the world, and not become just another talented foreign filmmaker that ends up making studio slop for Hollywood. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I can’t recommend this film enough. Yeah, you missed it for Christmas this year, but it’d make a great holiday gift – or viewing party! – for next year.
MOVIE MATH FOR RARE EXPORTS: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) plus The Gate (1987) plus the first 10 minutes of The City of Lost Children (1995) divided by Aki Kaurismaki equals Rare Exports.