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‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale’ Review

From our 2010 Fantastic Fest coverage, Scott Beggs reviews the R-rated Christmas movie that has since become a cult classic.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
By  · Published on December 3rd, 2010

As we all know, Santa Claus is not to be trusted. He sneaks into our homes in the middle of the night and doles out punishment for those who have been naughty during the year. If you’ve been nice, he leaves a gift as a symbolic reminder that he’ll be back, and he’ll be watching.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale takes a look at the darker side of the Santa Claus myth (which is totally real if you’re younger than eight years old) by displaying the frightening origins of a magic man who steals bad children. After all, Claus is a type of boogeyman. He’s a figure talked about around the campfire to spook children into behaving. He’s a lot like Keyser Soze. We seem to have forgotten that in America (what with all the Tim Allen movies we can stand), but thankfully it’s something they haven’t forgotten in Finland.

At the top of the Korvatunturi mountain, a discovery has been made. A massive ice block left there in ancient times has been unearthed, and inside is the body of jolly old murderous Saint Nick. Down in the valley, a young boy and his father find a broken old man at the bottom of their wolf trap. He has a long white beard, and he sniffs the air whenever a child is around. The best idea? Try to sell him.

From a fantastic idea to strong execution, Rare Exports is a great adventure movie. The dark elements are there, but to claim it’s a horror film is way off base. The old dirty man evokes some unsettling feelings, but ultimately, the story is about a young boy growing up, a village of men striking back against a corporate interest, and the immense economic incentives that exist in domesticating a mythic child killer.

Almost everything here is first-rate. The camera work is inspired, and the landscape they’ve chosen to shoot in is both breathtaking and harsh in its wintry wasteland. The relationship between the son and his father is a bit standard, but its acted well, and when the story takes its inevitable turn, it gets just as ridiculous as it needs to be while maintaining the fear and excitement that the bloody discovery of Santa Claus creates near the beginning.

I’m at a loss for words for how cool this is. It’s a Killer Santa. Killer Santa, people. It’s a great concept.

Fortunately, it’s not just a great concept left by the wayside here, because the film delivers a compelling story to go with a creepy starting point. One note of caution, though, and it may seem a bit spoilery, but this film has to be (hands down) the family-friendly, childhood adventure movie featuring the most frontal male nudity in the history of the art form. Luckily, since they’re in the ruthless cold of winter, everything’s shrunken for your protection.

Overall, it’s an eerie film that turns into an action-adventure narrative while being reverent to the true inception of Santa and his sadistic nature. The ancient people froze him in a block of ice years ago for a reason – they didn’t want any more of their kids being eaten. With this, director Jalmari Helander has made a movie that makes it good, old fashioned, dangerous fun to hunt down Santa Claus and sell him to the highest bidder. That is, without getting cannibalized by him first.

This review first ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2010 coverage.

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