Let's face it. When you get right down to it, Santa Claus is pretty creepy. I mean, he's a magical, moralizing Big Brother who takes it upon himself to usurp parental responsibility for rewarding or punishing children. And that's just the American version. The "Coca-Cola" version, as one of the kids in the Finnish Santa movie, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, directed by Jalmari Helander), says. European versions are even creepier. And that's not even including Santa's Northern European buddy, Krampus, a demonic figure tasked with the punishment of bad little kids. Here's a typical depiction:
I love Christmas.
Anyway. Rare Exports conflates Santa and Krampus as the monster in a fun Christmas horror movie. An expedition to the Korvatunturi mountains just to the Russian side of the Finnish/Russian border has unearthed the jolly old elf in all his Christmas horror, much to the chagrin of the Finnish reindeer ranchers just the other side of the border. Something has massacred their herd. Meanwhile, a plague of child abductions occurs. Only Pietari, the son of one of the ranchers, suspects whats' really happening, and his worst fears are confirmed when one of his dad's wolf traps captures a naked old man who may or may not be Father Christmas. Sensing an opportunity to recoup the losses from their reindeer, Pietari's father and his buddies take the old man to the excavation site, only to discover that something far more horrible is on the loose than anyone expects. And it's up to them to stop it.
Yeah. That plot summary makes me giggle a bit, too. This is a movie of considerable charm and oodles of droll comedy. Nor does it skimp on the horror. It's kind of perfect, and would easily enter the pantheon of juvenile adventure/horror movies if Americans would read subtitles, though some of the nastier scenes (the scene with the butchered pig, the bait for the wolf trap, and the hundreds of naked elves) might also give parents pause, I guess. At its most basic, it's a boy's adventure. It's a sly re-working of The Thing into a holiday picture. It's a LOT of fun.
But maybe this is all just me. I mean, I go around quoting Scrooge's line about prisons and workhouses during this time of years, so I'm totally down with darker versions of Christmas. My ideal Christmas would be gathering, as the Edwardians did, and telling ghost stories. All of those wonderful ghost stories by M. R. James? Written for Christmas. So putting the shudder back into Christmas is one of this film's rarer pleasures. It's also kind of a hoot seeing commercialism lampooned, too. I mean, the global reach of Coca-Cola I already mentioned, but I kinda dig the small business versus global capitalism undercurrent of the conflict between the Finns and the expedition. But maybe it's a mistake to read deeper meanings into this. It's only an 80 minute movie, after all, and it has its hands full just getting through its plot.
The relationships in Rare Exports are sharply drawn. There's an economy of performance in this film that is kind of a marvel, especially from the film's child actors, though I think pride of place goes to Jorma Tommila as Pietari's dad. There's a puzzling absence of female characters, and I won't claim that this isn't a flaw, but it's not a crippling flaw. This is a film of details, too. The creepy wooden dummies that are substituted for the abducted children are all kinds of wrong, while the "safety rules" for the dig are one of the best jokes I've seen in any film this year. This could all be assembled as some kind of shambolic patchwork, but director Helander, to his credit, puts it all together with a clockwork precision. This is as slick as anything from Hollywood, and more creative than an entire season of Hollywood holiday pablum.