Film: Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale
UK Release date: 7th November 2011
Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorna Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Peeter Jakobi
Running time: 83 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Typical really. You wait for one Christmas movie to fall down your chimney and low and behold, two festive fright-mares land in your sack at the same time. Dutch horror Sint may have took the traditional slasher route to all things joyful, but it’s Finnish entry Rare Exports that reigns triumphant. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a 2010 fantasy film directed by Jalmari Helander, which focuses on a small group of people that live near the Korvatunturi mountain. It’s here that they stumble upon an incredible treasure hidden deep beneath the surface, a discovery that might just reveal the secret of Santa Claus. Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale is available for the first time this month on UK shores.
It follows a group of local reindeer herders who’s Christmas is disturbed by excavations on the mountain. A scientist is digging "the largest burial mound in the world" hoping to uncover a sacred grave buried deep inside a massive block of ice. It helps if the occupant is dead of course, but the resident of this tomb is still very much alive. Strange events start to take place, not only are the reindeer killed in mysterious fashion, but household appliances start to vanish as well. Then there’s the small matter of children disappearing all over town. Helander’s Santa doesn’t have a little round belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, but he’s fuelled by a hatred of bad little girls and boys. They don’t just miss out on a present in Rare Exports; if they’re not careful they miss out on the rest of their lives too.
It would be naive of me to label Rare Exports a genre movie, because by weaving his magic through the eyes of a boy, Helander has created a whimsical childhood fantasy with subtle horror undertones. There is a tale of terror at its core, but it’s told in such a way that the horror elements don’t feel forced. Rare Exports has a dreamlike quality running through its veins, aided by a picturesque landscape and an innocence that might be lost on today’s bloodthirsty horror audience. Helander proves himself to be an expert storyteller, making the most of every scene and crafting a story so well told that my only criticism is - rather inevitably - all good things have to come to an end. The less you know about the film the better, because Rare Exports is - pardon the expression - the rarest of finds, a truly unique cinematic experience from start to finish.
Helander’s vision is clear from the start; he knows exactly where he’s going and never strays off course. The setup, the twists, the offbeat ending, they come together perfectly. Rare Exports is a prequel of sorts to two short films made in 2003 and 2005. The original 7-minute movie, ‘Rare Exports Inc.’, comes on like a quirky documentary program while it’s follow up, ‘Rare Exports - The Official Safety Instructions’, does exactly what it says on the tin. Both are definitely worth a look, if only to recognise the surviving cast members.
Speaking of which, if you’re going to tell a story through the eyes of a whippersnapper you could do without annoying child actors pilfering the party. Onni Tommila is a fantastic young performer who captivates and convinces at every turn. Playing the part of Pietari, it’s his very touching relationship with his father that keeps the film anchored in reality. Even when the plot takes flight, both literally and figuratively, the quality lead turns are on hand to keep your feet firmly on the ground. Not least from the man that Pietari believes to be Santa Claus. Peeter Jakobi proves once and for all that great acting demands more than just delivering lines on cue. He says everything he needs to say with an icy glare and a twitchy nose, and he’s all the more intimidating for it. It’s a terrifying performance from start to finish, both fleeting and ferocious, but one that should keep you from breaking out the festive cheer.
He’s so good in fact; it’s easy to forgive the filmmakers for the ‘big reveal’ that never quite materialises. It’s slightly disappointing at first, especially when you take into account the original concept of the movie, but the final moments are in keeping with the overall tone and upon reflection, add a level of mystery that should bear fruit with repeat viewing. At its heart Rare Exports is a coming of age story, a fantastical voyage that surprises at every turn. It’s a heart-warming tale that bleeds originality from every pore. You’ll just have to ignore the misinterpretation of ‘sleigh ride’, slay and sleigh; it’s an easy mistake to make.
Dark and disturbing, original and heart-warming, Rare Exports is an undiscovered gem waiting to be found. Not only is it one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the greatest Christmas tales ever told. Now what are the chances of a sequel?