Rare Exports (2010)

DIRECTOR Jalmari Halander
STARRING Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings, Onni Tommila, Risto Salmi, Peeter Jakobi
RELEASE DATE September 24th, 2010
RUNTIME 82 Minutes

A young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think a secret mountain drilling project near their home in northern Finland has uncovered the tomb of Santa Claus. However, this a monstrous, evil Santa, much unlike the cheery St. Nick of legend. When Pietari’s father (Jorma Tommila) captures a feral old man (Peeter Jakobi) in his wolf trap, the man may hold the key to why reindeer are being slaughtered and children are disappearing.

I am often asked what my favorite Christmas movie is. The answer—surprisingly—is It’s a Wonderful Life. I know, I know, it’s unfathomable that my favorite is not a horror movie. I can save this though, there are in fact only two films I have watched every Christmas break for the last few years. One is It’s a Wonderful Life, the other is Rare Exports. This little slice of Amblin-esque goodness is an all time great Christmas flick and an just an all time favorite of mine in general.

So there you have it, an intriguing synopsis that offers basically nothing! Here is my take, this is one of the most unique Christmas horror film—maybe ever!—because it doesn’t take you by the hand. It leaves a lot left to the imagination, from filling the backstory of the town where our protagonist, young Pietari, to the true nature of the beast trapped inside that mountain. It tells an emotionally charged story that feels lived in and real. It’s also completely foreign, hailing from Finland. I suppose I could have led with that. Yes, this is a foreign film replete with subtitles and all that jazz. After 10 viewings I can say that it is emotionally complex with beautifully created characters-a film about brave mach men learning how to be softer and children growing up in a hard and unforgiving world learning how to be brave.

The story follows Pietari and his father, a widower who is scrounging out a living wrangling reindeer once a year with his fellow townsfolk. Meanwhile, a crew is excavating a nearby mountain. It becomes clear that they have found something when a series of disasters plague the town, first something kills the reindeer and then a number of children go missing, vanishing without a trace. Whatever took the kids left twisted wooden replicas in their place. Things get truly strange when Pietari and his father find an old naked man impaled on a stake in a deadfall trap built to catch wolves. The man looks like Santa Claus, but as we soon learn there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Still here? Good. So if you’re still here you want to know what makes Rare Exports so damn good it’s worth watching every year alongside a Frank Capra masterpiece? It’s a lot of things, I guess. It’s the originality and imagination of the film. It’s the childlike wonder that it exudes from every frame. It captures my mind in a way that few movies can, and with every viewing I find more to love about the film, a detail here and there or perhaps something I forgot and am delighted to remember. There are very few films that do this for me, and I will always revisit the ones that do. It’s the characters. Tough as nails, but sweet as can be. They band together when the going gets tough and it is a joy to watch them attempt to save their town and their livelihoods by returning Santa to the mountain where they are certain he came from and claim a reward from the men who dug him up. The only problem is that the thing they found in the woods isn’t Santa, but one of its helpers.

It’s that plot twist that might make this movie absolutely sublime. The pure Lovecraftian presentation of Santa Claus in this film is astounding. We never see him, just his towering form trapped in the ice. His servants are frantically trying to wake him from the ice, gathering all the lights and heating units they can find, and are prepping for his arrival by stocking the larder full of children to eat. Here we have an ancient god of sorts, a beast so fierce and terrifying and insatiable it had be lured into a volcano and frozen deep inside of it just to contain it. I love this and I love the film’s assertion of the place of man in the face of the supernatural. The men from the village who help to rescue the children and save the day? They cut the horns off the head of the great beast and blow him up using an excessive amount of blasting materials. The film shows that—in contrast to other films or stories dealing with these large god-type beings returning to life—the men have control over the situation, that they are allowed to be brave in the face of horror and that they can overcome said horror if they work hard enough. I like that a lot. 

In the end, that message—the one that says no matter how bad things get, all is not lost—is a perfect way to end the film. There are eleven other months in which to be bleak and sad and to exist in perpetual state of existential innue, but for this month maybe try something a little more uplifting. To that end, I hope you give Rare Exports a shot or a revisit. It’s worth it.