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Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Written and directed by Jalmari Helander.
Starring Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila and Peeter Jakobi.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is fucking weird, man. This Finnish feature is based on two popular and equally weird short films by the same team from 2003 and 2005, but it’s sort of an origin story behind those shorts, so you don’t need to be familiar with them at all (in fact, I hadn’t heard of them until after I saw the film).

Here’s how it goes: Up in the arctic circle, in the Korvatunturi Mountains, a team of archaeologists has just dug up what they were looking for: Santa Claus. Except this isn’t the Santa Claus we know and love… For some reason, this Santa is a child-eating killer. Or something like that. (The film brilliantly portrays this as drawn from the true origins of the Santa Claus story; it’s not, but a few critics seem to have fallen for it.)

Anyway, children in the nearby village start disappearing; a team of hunters capture him (or have they?) and try to sell him back to the corporation that sponsored the dig; and the story takes a couple of hilarious, movie cliché-inspired left-turns along the way.

Rare Exports is charmingly, disturbingly weird, and yet… in the end, it’s not nearly as dark as you might expect from the trailer. I certainly wouldn’t call it a horror movie, or really even a thriller. It’s just one messed up little adventure story — very much in the Christmas movie tradition… except for, you know, the psycho Santa thing. The lead child (Onni Tommila) is an adorable scene-stealer who centers the film admirably.

Unfortunately, the storytelling is a little messed up, too — when the hunters discover the body of “Santa,” for instance, they initially think he’s dead. Only after entirely too much time has passed, do these hunters realize he isn’t. But the few eye-rolling moments like that aren’t enough to outweigh the film’s bizarro charm.

If you can, see in theaters this Christmas, or on video next year. Better yet, see it with an impressionable kid.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is rated R because there’s a lot of naked Santa in it and a bit of language. There’s not really a lot of violence in it; parents okay with their kids getting an eyeful of old-man schlong (mostly from a distance) shouldn’t find anything too objectionable in the violence. It opens in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre on Christmas Eve.


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