And you thought The Grinch was unconventional… CHLOE MASHITER fills her stocking with Finnish Santa-shocker Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
Directed by Jalmari Helander
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So it turns out Santa does exist – albeit as a sadistic, homicidal and inhuman creature who’d sooner give a naughty child a lava enema than even look at a stocking. Full to the brim with ear-biting, explosions, mutilated reindeer and more, Rare Exports may not be your typical Christmas fare, but it is a superb film.
The fantastical and festive offering follows the endearing Pietari, who takes it upon himself to save his community when Santa Claus finally does come to town. The film’s central conceit of ‘kid versus Father Christmas’ is pleasingly simple and is fleshed out with a wonderful eye for detail and healthy doses of humour, making for an effortlessly entertaining flick.
Pietari is by far the most loveable and amusing lead I’ve seen in a long time – true, his character develops quicker than a Polaroid photo, but it’s an arc completely befitting of such a bizarre story. Spending most of the film as an impressively resourceful yet innocent kid whose idea of self-defence is putting bear traps beneath the chimney, Pietari later graduates to being a dispenser of live-saving schemes, slick one-liners and shotgun blasts. And it’s a huge credit to the film that this actually works.
Such success is largely down to the straight-faced performances from all involved, without which Rare Exports would likely fall into a celluloid cartoon.
But with the drama played seriously and the humour played dryly, Helander gets away with knowing nods to action movie convention in the movie’s more extreme segments.
Another of Rare Export’s achievements is how deftly it darts between horror and humour. Various scenes, including children struggling inside burlap bags and Pietari morbidly crossing his friends’ names off a list are genuinely unsettling and disturbing. Yet episodes such as characters attempting to fend off inhuman creatures with brooms, or someone being mindful of VAT at the most inappropriate moments, sit comfortably against the dark backdrop of the film.
The film, however, is Helander’s first feature-length film, and it shows, with a runtime of only 88 minutes, which results in the steady tension established early on being exchanged for a breakneck hurtle through the action in the final quarter. But it’s both a criticism and compliment to the film that I want to see more of it. Also, the movie’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it denouement will no doubt irritate some viewers as a saccharine and glib conclusion to an otherwise complex story – but by then the makers of this wonderful film have long earned the right to do whatever they like.
If the idea of doing any unnecessary reading whatsoever over the vacation is enough to simulate week-five blues, then maybe the subtitles are enough to keep you away from this film. However, if you can endure them – and a few slo-mo shots of legions of naked old men running towards the camera – you’ll be rewarded with one of the most imaginative and enthralling films around this holiday season.