By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 25, 2010)
It’s official. I now have a new favorite Christmas movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing meets Miracle on 34th Street in Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a wickedly clever Yule story that spices up the usual holiday family movie recipe by folding in generous dollops of sci-fi, horror, and Norse legend.
The twist here is that our protagonist, a young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) not only believes that Santa Claus is, in fact, real, but that he is buried just beyond the back 40 of his dad’s reindeer ranch, where American archeologists are excavating a mysterious promontory. After bizarre and troubling events begin to plague Pietari’s sleepy little hamlet, it looks that Santa may have just been “resting”. And if this is the mythical Santa Pietari suspects, then he is more Balrog than eggnog…and is best left undisturbed.
The director also works a sly anti-consumerist polemic into his narrative. Pietra’s dad (Jorma Tommila) and his fellow reindeer hunters-who are more chagrinned that the saturnine Santa is threatening their livelihood by slaughtering all the reindeer than by the fact that he is also methodically kidnapping the village children and spiriting them away to an undisclosed location, manage to capture him, and then demand a “ransom” from the corporate weasel who, for his own nefarious reasons, is funding the dig.
In the meantime, a legion of Santa’s nasty little “helpers” are running amuck and wreaking havoc. Pietari, the only one keeping a cool head, just wants to enjoy Christmas with dad-even if he has to transform into a midget version of Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness to rescue the children (and save the farm, in a manner of speaking).
There’s nothing “cute” about this film, yet it’s by no means mean-spirited, either. It is an off-beat, darkly funny, and wholly original treat for moviegoers hungry for a fresh alternative to the 999th lifetime viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. Speaking as someone who lived for many years within a day’s drive of the Arctic Circle, the film also perfectly captures the stark beauty of midwinter in the far Northern Hemisphere; especially that unique dichotomy of soothing tranquility and alien desolation that it can bring to one’s soul. And for god’s sake-let Santa rest in peace.