Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – Review
In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 meters deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up. This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus.
It’s the 22nd of December and we are getting down to our last few Awful Advent reviews. We have watched some awesome movies. I am quite surprised at just how good a lot of Christmas Horror is. I particularly enjoyed The Advent Calendar and Mercy Christmas. Both of which I was watching for the first time. Still, we have a couple of days left so let’s keep things moving. Today we are looking at Finnish modern Christmas horror classic Rare Exports.
Having seen this movie a few times, I am always surprised by how dark it is. Presented as something of a horror comedy. It is incredibly gritty considering the subject matter. It is the Let the Right One In of Xmas Horror. Well, if Let The Right One In had a lick of humour to it. A team of researchers have dug something up that really should have stayed buried. Santa’s tomb! A young boy quickly begins to see the truth of Christmas. He realises that the fat jolly man of Western marketing isn’t actually as jolly as legends present him.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
Rare Exports – Synopsis
Directed by Jalmari Helander. Rare Exports follows the story of Pietari and the strange things that are going on in his town. A team of foreign researchers have been taking samples from the earth on top of Korvatunturi. The area is believed to be the resting place of Finnish legend the Joulupukki. Spying on the researchers. Pietari and his friend watch them and eavesdrop on their conversations. Heading back to their Snowmobile, Pietari’s friend mocks him for his views on Santa.
Pietari has been spending his time researching Santa claus. Digging deep into Finnish legend. He has already learned of the aforementioned Joulupukki. He is a figure that appears at Christmas to punish kids that are naughty. Pietari’s dad slaughters reindeer for a living. Having recently noticed reindeer going missing, he assumes wolves are the culprit. He digs a pit to trap any wolves that come to harass the herd. Later, Pietary and his father head out on the annual Reindeer hunt.
When the pair make it to a hunting site close to the Korvatunturi glacier. They find hundreds of reindeer massacred. Something has been eating them leaving only a couple remaining. Pietari’s father, again, believes it is the result of wolves. Pietari, on the other hand, is not so sure. Blaming the company researching near the glacier. Pietari’s father wants to demand reparations for the dead reindeer. The two head off to the location of the excavation. When they arrive they find the site completely abandoned. There is a huge crater in the ground where something appears to have been removed. It would seem there is more to the reindeer deaths than meets the eye. Pietari, on the other hand, knows exactly what is wrong.
The Anti-Christmas Movie
Acting as something of an anti-Christmas movie. Rare Exports makes its intentions clear instantly as Pietari’s father hacks up a reindeer for food. This isn’t a movie that is aiming to bring you Xmas cheer. Rare Exports cares not for your sanitised, commercialised, view of the festive season. Gone are the happy elves making toys in the North Pole. The joyous red suited fat man is nowhere to be found. Donner and Blitzen have packed up and gone south for the winter. In their place are hundreds of slaughtered Rudolphs. A Santa that wouldn’t look out of place in a depiction of hell. And a bunch of elves that run around naked terrorising boys and girls.
Rare Exports presents a version of Santa that couldn’t be further away from what we are used to. Building on stories of legend read by Pietari. Santa is a Krampus like creature existing only to punish children that have been naughty. Indeed, Pietari is so disturbed by what he reads that he staples his Advent Calendar shut so Santa can’t get him. The fellow children in his town still believe in the cheerful depiction of the big man. Pietari can barely convince them otherwise. Rare Exports wants to take everything you know about Christmas movies and flip it on its head.
The Perfect Christmas Alternative
This is something that it actually does incredibly well. In fact, Rare Exports feels like the furthest thing from a Christmas movie. Despite being set in Lapland and featuring plenty of festive tropes. It is the perfect option for people looking for something completely different.
Some people can’t stand the perpetual festive cheer this time of year. Rare Exports is the proverbial panacea to that exact thing. Do you have a relative that moans about Christmas songs ? Do they hate the decorations littering the streets this time of year? Throw on Rare Exports and watch them delight at its grim portrayal of the season. It’s great fun and has a wicked sense of humour to boot.
A Different Perspective
Naturally, like many great Christmas movies, we see the events through they eyes of a young boy. Terrified of Santa. Pietari tapes cardboard to his butt to prevent the inevitable whupping he believes he is due. The hockey gear he dons to protect himself from Santa seems secondary to the rifle he carries. Stolen from his dad, Pietari believes this is wholly necessary to survive. It’s not particularly common to see a movie where a child is afraid of Santa. Silent Night, Deadly Night aside. With that being said, Rare Exports isn’t like other movies.
As with many movies of this type. Pietari’s curious nature is established throughout the opening scenes. His somewhat un-trusting personality works greatly to his advantage. It leads him to immediately work out what is going on in the town. He has been researching Santa for awhile and believes him to be evil. Given that he recently lost his mother. The allure of Christmas is probably already somewhat lessened. His relationship with his dad is awkward and things won’t be the same without his mum. The revelations about Santa really put the nail in the coffin. Not blinded by Santa’s tricks. When things start to go wrong in the area, Pietari knows exactly who is to blame.
A Sense of Adventure
This sense of childlike curiosity combined with the character’s fear and skepticism. Lends a fantastic sense of adventure to the movie. I really love this about Rare Exports. It reminds me of films like The Goonies. As far as horror goes, it is quite a unique perspective. Pietari is completely un-fooled. Unlike many movies that feature a child protagonist, the adults actually believe him. Well, they do eventually, anyway.
He doesn’t have to spend half of the movie trying to prove them wrong. That’s pretty novel. They completely buy into the potential for what he is saying to be true. He quickly becomes the adult’s go to resource for all things bad Santa. Whereas some will find this somewhat unrealistic, it brings an element of fun to the movie. Pietari is able to fill in the blanks for the adults and they find what he is saying to be feasible. Perhaps they also grew up on legends of Santa being a complete bastard and can make the link?
Gritty and Tense
As mentioned above, this is an incredibly gritty movie. It is the anti-Christmas film. Rare Exports takes the Joulupukki of Finish legend. Turns it up to ten and creates a genuinely creepy version of Santa. On top of that it also presents us with a somewhat complicated father son relationship. Pietari’s recent past has been tragic. Having already lost his mum. His dad is struggling to adapt to parenting alone.
An absolutely oppressive, snow covered landscape plays backdrop to the movie. Looking every bit as harsh as you can imagine. The cold environment only adds to the gritty presentation. Stunning in its vast whiteness. It’s somewhat strange that such a typical festive landscape can play host to a horror story. That is what makes Rare Exports such a good anti-Christmas movie, though. Few places on earth can present such a fitting representation of the North Pole. It is incredibly authentic and helps tremendously with the atmosphere. It also helps matters that Lapland only gets a few hours of light this time of year. Rarely do events take place in anything other than darkness. It all serves to add to the tension.
Rare Exports is not a gory movie. It’s not trying to present Santa as a slasher villain who cuts his way through tons of victims. It wants to build tension and a sense of not knowing what will happen next. It aims to shock the viewer in ways you may not expect. Some of which become very apparent a little later in the movie. Rudolph being on the menu, naked elves and “Santa” in a pit trap are just a few of the methods used. It’s great stuff and feels very different to some of the other Christmas horror movies. Many tend to lean heavily into gore and blood. Rare Exports doesn’t and it feels very different for it.
There is a degree of feasibility to the events of the movie. Everything is presented in a way that seems realistic and, almost, as if it could actually happen. Never once does Rare Exports hint that it is a farcical story deliberately played for laughs. Sure, the ending perhaps trends a little bit towards satire. The rest of the movie, however, is portrayed as deadpan as can be. Aside from really helping to elevate the moments of fantastic dry Finnish humour. It helps the viewer to buy into the tension and atmosphere that the movie so carefully creates. A story like this could easily slip into silliness. The fact that it never does is commendable. It maintains its grittiness from start to finish.
Fantastic Acting and Gorgeous Cinematography
Acting is fantastic. Onni Tommila is, obviously, the star of the show here. Tasked with carrying the movie from Pietari’s perspective. He does a fantastic job and is very easy to root for. I am sure he went on to even more starring roles. He absolutely deserves them. His actual real life dad, Jorma Tommila, stars alongside him and does a really good job. Their complicated relationship is one of the more interesting facets of the film. It goes without saying that their real life chemistry helps to propel the story along. While Rare Exports never gets too deep on character building. The one developed relationship in the movie is important to the plot and these two do a good job.
Cinematography is stunning. It is quite surprising to see the budget of this movie given how gorgeous it looks. I believe much of it was filmed in Norway and the beautiful scenery is one of the stars of the show. Mika Orasmaa fills every pixel of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio with incredible shots of snow covered hills. This is a harsh landscape that greatly adds to the grittiness of the film. Despite how oppressive it feels, its hard not to marvel at just how incredibly well filmed it is. A few moments of shoddy CG don’t impact things too much. Some of the close up shots of the movie’s villains are pure horror gold, as well.
Perhaps Not For Everyone
Naturally, this movie isn’t going to be for everyone. For one, it is not exactly pure horror in the traditional sense. This is very much horror with a deadpan sense of humour. The commitment to comedy is there throughout but not in a way that I would consider obstructive. Some people really dislike comedy horror, however, so it bears mention. It is a fairly bleak film. Despite how funny it is, it feels fairly miserable at times. It is an anti-Christmas film after all. We can’t have too much festive cheer. Characters can feel a little underdeveloped. The story here takes centre stage. There isn’t too much room for putting time into anything that doesn’t further the plot.
Rare Exports wants to build tension and create atmosphere. It doesn’t feature many moments of actual horror. Later in the movie. It gets into more developed scenes with the characters fighting for survival. Despite this, it feels more like an action movie than anything else. The slightly satirical ending may put a few people off as well. With all of this being said. Rare Exports is the perfect option for anyone looking for something different. If you want something to blow a big raspberry to the Christmas season. There aren’t many better options.
Is it a Knockout?
Rare Exports is a Christmas horror movie that presents us with an utterly twisted version of Santa. Dug up from the ground in Lapland. This Santa is only interested in those who are naughty and they will get more than a lump of coal in their stockings. Gritty, bleak, and hilarious in parts. This is the anti-Christmas horror movie. Perfect for those looking for something completely different.
Presenting itself as completely serious. Rare Exports features tons of deadpan humour and a brilliant sense of tension. Gorgeous cinematography places the incredible landscape front and centre during the dark, oppressive Scandinavian winter. Not exactly scary, this may not be for everyone. It's focus on humour is there throughout and it places tension over scares. Still, if you are looking for something completely different this festive season, Rare Exports should be top of your Christmas list.