You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. And he's going to eat you. In the entertaining Finnish horror-thriller Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, the song takes on a whole new meaning.
Rare Exports is set in a small town in Lapland, a northern region of Finland, where excavators have dug up something ancient and evil. Only one little boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) knows the truth: they've found the real Santa Claus, a killer that takes naughty children and terrorizes locals. With his return, Santa's freakish elves have awoken, determined to carry out his bidding.
Leprechaun the movie is not. The filmmakers treat the material seriously. The threat is often off screen, the emphasis less on horror and scares than on a creative, disturbing twist on a beloved jolly fat man. Filmed on a budget of only €2 million, Rare Exports looks wonderful, with sweeping cinematography and crisp visuals. It looks like a Hollywood production. Only with Finns.
The movie flows at a steady pace, avoiding standard horror clichés. In many ways, the movie can't even be called a horror movie; there's little violence or terror, and it's more comical than scary. Still, director Jalmari Helander maintains a sense of dread throughout the story, and when the elves begin to appear, things get creepier.
As entertaining as the movie is, Rare Exports isn't without some glaring flaws. Many of the characters' decisions don't make a whole lot of sense. For instance, when the father (Jorma Tommila), one of the protagonists, discovers he's "caught" a naked old man, his first instinct is to chop him up to cover up the perceived crime. For a rather simplistic movie, there are a fair amount of plot holes, or at least unexplained moments that make the movie oddly confusing.
Still, some of these shortcomings play into the movie's charms. As serious as the filmmakers take their movie, they also take its goofiness equally seriously. Pietari is a wimpy little kid, but when crap hits the fan, he turns into a decisive, authoritative figure who knows exactly what to do. The change in character is absurd, yet works in the context of the film. The climax is equally absurd, but it too fits.
Rare Exports won't appeal to everyone. As a horror movie, it isn't scary, nor is it suspenseful. As a comedy, it's not really funny. The climax could have been more complex and exciting. And yet Rare Exports is strangely captivating, capitalizing on its unique spin on a childhood tale. Recommended to those who want something a bit different.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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