Horror themed Christmas movies are certainly nothing new, but writer/director Jalmari Helander gives us a Christmas movie that is a horror-fantasy-dark comedy-boy’s adventure tale, and that my friends is a rare export indeed.
This movie bases its story on a mixture of Christmas folklore; the Finnish legends of Joulupukki, a horned pagan figure, and Krampus the German equivalent. Although the Krampus focuses more on punishing bad little children and not so much on the gift giving, and is closer to the Santa in this movie.
The picture opens with an American excavation company drilling deep into a mountain located in the northern wilds of Finland, Brian Greene (Jonathan Hutchings) is an eccentric American archeologist who believes that this is not a natural mountain but a burial mound to rival the pyramids of Giza, and that deep down in that tomb lies the original Santa Claus.
Two local boys spy on the operation; Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Jusso (Ilmari Järvenpää) who had cut a hole in the fence to sneak in and watch the drilling. Pietari still believes in Santa and is mocked by his friend who clearly isn’t afraid of being on anyone’s naughty list.
That night, Pietari does some research on the origins of Santa with most of what he learns scaring the pants off him, as it looks like the “real” Santa tracks down bad little boys and beats their backsides bloody before boiling them in oil and devouring them. Pietari starts to wear his hockey gear and duct tapes cardboard to his backside as a precaution, as well as stapling the December 24th door in his advent calendar closed. Better safe than sorry.
But the locals have more to be worried about, as their livelihood hinges on the herd of reindeer that are due to migrate through the area, and when they are found slaughtered, assumed by the adults to be the work of Russian super wolves, things look dire for the community. Pietari is worried that it was the hole that he and Jusso cut in the fence that allowed the wolves into the area. He wants to tell his father but is threatened into silence by Jusso.
Things take a decidedly weird turn when Pietari’s father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) discovers a body in his illegal wolf-pit trap that appears to be an old bearded man. Stranger still is when Rauno and his friend Piiparinen (Rauno Jovonen) realize the old man is still alive. They at first believe the old man to be an American employee of Greene because of the American passport they find in his coat, but when he responds to neither Norse nor American, and really only becomes responsive when he sniffs either gingerbread cookies or children, it begins to don on the adults that things may not be what they seem.
“Kidnap the Sandy Claws, lock him up real tight, throw away the key and then turn off all the lights.”
When they learn that someone has been stealing empty burlap sacks and radiators from all over town the adults finally start to listen to Pietari. They believe him when he says this is Santa Claus and that he was dug up by the Americans and has been running around spying on the children, mostly snatching them as well. Rauno has the brilliant plan of selling back Santa Claus to Greene for the cost of their lost herd of reindeer, and by brilliant I mean insane. Worst of all it turns out the old codger isn’t Santa but one of his helpers, one of his many, many helpers, as our heroes find themselves quickly surrounded by a horde of naked white bearded old men.
It’s inside warehouse 24 that the true horror of the situation is revealed; a massive block of ice centered in the warehouse is surrounded by all the stolen radiators and amongst them are the missing sacks, though no longer empty but now full of children. These “Santa’s Helpers” are trying to melt free their master and have collected all the “bad” little boys and girls of the town to feed him when he awakens.
Rare Exports is a rare Christmas gem, as not only is it a darkly original comedic tale but has a lead in the form of young Onni Tommila who exceeds all expectations of a child actor. He is the heart and soul of this movie. The scenes between he and his father are beautiful and heart felt as both try and deal with life’s troubles; Rauno trying to raise a boy without a mother’s help while also worrying about how he is going to keep him fed, and Pietari trying to balance being a good son and discovering the secrets around him. Pietari does win his dad’s respect, as it his quick thinking and courage that saves the day as he figures out how to lure a throng of naked Santa’s into a trap.
Though ostensibly a horror film there isn’t a lot of gore on display here, certainly not in the league of such films as Dead Snow or Silent Night Deadly Night, but the sight of hundreds of axe wielding naked old men is horrifying in its own right. So I’d easily recommend this film for family members of seven and up. It is a great fairy tale in the manner of the Grimm’s Brothers with nods to such films as John Carpenter’s The Thing, and with a young hero whose deeds rival those of your modern action star.