Yet another paper I had to do for a class, and I just wanted to share! I LOVE this movie. LOVE. Don't want to watch it more than once or twice a year, but still I LOVE it!
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
The Perfect Holiday Treat
A movie watched in disbelief, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale will not fail to entertain even the most crotchety of Scrooges this holiday season. Released December 3, 2010, this Finnish horror/comedy/suspense film directed by Jalmari Helander highlights a full cast of unknown faces that suck the average moviegoer in with the skills of seasoned pros. Onni Tommila plays our adorable protagonist Pietari, and his father Jorma Tommila keeps the role of dad playing Pietari’s father Rauno in the film. Set in the majestic alpine ranges of northern Finland, Rare Exports features such treasures as a nekkid Santa, mutilated Reindeer, kidnapping, ear biting, gingerbread eating, and explosives. In short, it is a perfect holiday treat for the childish grownup lurking within.
Set in modern times, Pietari is an innocent young boy living with his father Rauno in their home, a ramshackle collection of wood that is mostly termites holding hands next to the remote slaughterhouse that Rauno runs. His youth is constantly reaffirmed by his need to tote around his (seriously creepy) stuffed toy and his squeamishness at entering the building where Dad does all his work. Pietari and his oh so grown-up friend Jusso ( played by Ilmari Järvenpää) climb through an intimidating fence to creep atop a giant ominous mound near their Finnish home, getting an expected boyish thrill out of spying on the mysterious Canadian Science expedition that is bound and determined to dig the mound up. But when the stirring speech given by the expedition leader mentions a countdown and a “grave to rob,” young Pietari begins to suspect things are not as jolly as they seem this Christmas. Legend has it that centuries ago a true boogie man monster threatened the citizens of the little town, and a fortuitous fall through the ice, trapping it forever, led to the biggest burial mound in creation as the frozen and preserved corpse is buried for all time. Ominous booming flips of the calendar herald the passing of time as the countdown to Christmas day.
Pietari brings proof of Santa’s nefarious deeds to Jusso, who feels entirely too mature to believe in such things. It is not until the yearly Reindeer roundup for slaughter that the viewer realizes things may indeed be creepy, and not just in Pietari’s imagination. The Reindeer heard has been decimated. While the furious adults blame it on the expedition blasting and a spooked pack of wolves, Pietari knows better. A bloody footprint is all the proof he needs, though the guilt at being the one to open the fence for his youthful spying holds his tongue. Our young hero takes to wearing hockey gear, cardboard bottom padding, and staying awake all night in dread that an evil version of Santa will come to get him. His father, emotionally distant and seemingly lost, is dismayed by the sudden change in his son and his requests for spankings. “Because I’ve been bad,” says Pietari. Modern Santa just leaves coal in your stocking if you are bad. Boogie-man legendary Santa eats you raw or boils you up in a kiddie stew.
Pieteri realizes that the children of their little town have all gone missing. Oddly, so are any and all heat-producing appliances. The clock is ticking down (literally) to Christmas day, and Pieteri is getting desperate. A plan to trap the wolves that stole their livelihood instead leads to an “accident” and the mortal wounding of a strange old man. Rauno secrets the aged body off to his butcher shop in a panic, calling in the help of his friends to concoct a way out of this new problem. It is in the process of disposing of any evidence of this “accident”t that the true creep-fest and fun begins. The old and seemingly dead man starts moving. He starts sniffing. He wakes up. He gnaws off the ear from one of Rauno’s buddies… It does not take long for the viewer to piece together the awakening of this seriously creepy old guy with the proximity of the innocent yet situationally wise Pietari, peeking in the window. The children are all missing, and this eerie old guy has something to do with it.
It is time to let the adults in on the horror as Pietari finally blurts his suspicions about Evil Santa to his father and buddies who are confounded by the strangeness of their captive. With the help of some tongue-in-cheek giggling from the audience at the casualness with which the adults munch on Gingerbread, the co-conspirators decide that this old creepy-beyond-all-reason man must be the boogie man of old, and therefore the prize that the explorers have been unearthing with their blasts. They decide that the researchers must be held accountable for their part in the loss of their yearly income (the decimated Reindeer,) and decide that the best course of action is to ransom him back to the scientists. It is with this plan in motion that the creep factor in the movie goes from mild to GOOD GRIEF. Upon that attempted exchange for ransom, viewers are enlightened with a veritable hoard of nimble and unnerving ancient assumptions of St.Nick in the buff, who pick off the extra characters one by one with a swift yet mearly implied brutality. The hunters will never get their ransom as the person they plan to claim their restitution from ends up with an axe abruptly protruding from his pate. Somehow the violence of the whole thing never really makes it onto the screen. Rather, it is hinted at and flittering by on the screen, making this “violent” film decidedly gore-free when compared to others in the genre. Aside from the bits and pieces of Reindeer in the field, that is…
Aside from the obvious entertainment factor a creepy au’ naturel Santa figure offers, viewers get to watch Pietari grow up right before their eyes. He goes from disobedient due to innocence, toting around his stuffed bear, to wise and heroic as he sets that stuffed memento of childhood aside and enters the fray head up, ready and willing to save the day. By the end of the film Pietari has fully outgrown his childish ways. It is not made clear where Pieteri’s mother is (or any woman, for that matter; the film is devoid of even one,) but the sadness and helplessness Rauno feels through most of the film is palpable. The viewer gets to watch him emerge from the darkness of this event as a new man, confident and proud of his son. Pietari’s friend Juuso, absent for most of the movie, loses his super tough facade and becomes more childlike. The more than rough-around-the-edges friends of Rauno bond through the experience, and leave the viewers with a vision of respectability and success. There is growth and lifestyle change made by all of the characters of the film, creepy Santa person included.
It is the score, artfully composed by brothers Juri and Miska Seppä that really set this film atop its pedestal of fantastical weirdness. “Creepy Santa” gets a jingle all his own, and every interaction or potential interaction is peppered with these now dreaded tones. Those are eight little notes that will follow moviegoers home from the theatre. Scenes which might otherwise be uninspiring bloom into life due to the talents of the brothers. Variety Magazine proclaims that “Large-scale orchestrations connect the film to emotion tugging adventure thrillers, generating chuckles through their overblown nature yet still catching the viewer up in the elaborate themes.”
The late Roger Ebert heralds the movie as “a rather brilliant lump of coal for your stocking hung by the fireside with care,”
(Ebert, 2010) and it is that care
that is evident in every frame of the movie. The Korvatunturi Mountains set a
breathtaking background to the story (though it was filmed in Norway), and the
visual design composition plays a very large role in keeping the story on the
edge of true horror with random little bits of ridiculous. Cinematography magic
in lighting plays a key role in highlighting both giggle-worthy and
seat-clenching moments, with the bleak and bland landscape punctuated by random
bright bursts of color. A caged Boogey-Man in a brilliant red Santa suit
cruising down the road in the back of a run-down pickup truck provides one of
the most memorable moments of the whole film, leaving moviegoers wide eyed with
trepidation. Does one giggle at the absurdity? Or shrink with unease when that
unearthly and intent gaze of the bad guy creeps on to the screen?
Though the film is almost entirely in Finnish, viewers should not let the English subtitles be something to dissuade. The storyline is interesting enough, the visuals gripping enough, that soon watchers do not even realize they have read most of the film through. The few bits of English that are thrown in by the explorers highlight the shenanigans that are to come (“no cursing” as a safety instruction?) and soon the language barrier actually highlights the film, rather than detracting from it. It is assumed that some of the characters do not speak Finnish, so the interpretation and translations offered verbally by the characters, compared to the captioned words, really help to pinpoint the goodness and unintentional humor in the men you might otherwise find less-than-desirable if judged by actions alone. The viewer needs that goodness and sarcasm to really connect with the characters.
This piece of cinematographic candy may be sweet for only a select set of viewers; the humor is subtle and the whole thing is creepily tongue-in-cheek, with the final reveal leaving the viewer in a level of heebie-jeebies guaranteed to revisit every Christmas. Rotten Tomatoes, reviewing the film as an “unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror,”
(Rotten Tomatoes, 2010) delivers a bountiful 90% positive in the
critical reviews. Peeter Jacobi does an intensely masterful job as the main
unnerving Santa in the piece, it will be hard to see him in any other film and
not have flashbacks to his time in this one. Onni Tommila is seemingly timeless
as he plays Pietari, appearing nine, maybe ten, at the time of the film. He
also played Pietari in a series of Rare
Exports shorts five years prior, it seems he just ages well. It is as if he
was born to play Pietari, his personality is so genuine. The affection between
Pietari and Rauno feels very authentic as the father-son duo work together in
the film, a bonus considering their casting. These are two names that need to
grace the big screen again at some point. IMDB.com gives the 84 minutes spent
with the creepy Finnish Santa a slightly more conservative 6.7 out of 10 stars
and notes that the R rating is guided by nekkid Santa and some understandable
cursing. (IMDB.com, 2010) I would assume the dismembered
Reindeer and sinister, less than jolly, villain also played a part in that R
rating. The Inquirer states, “Never mind the pint-sized protagonist: Rare Exports […] isn't really suitable
for younger filmgoers: Hacked-up body parts (animal and human), a cascade of
profanity, and the sight of an army of naked, wizened men moving like zombies
across the snowscape - this Santa Claus story is for a midnight movie crowd,
not the kiddie matinees.” (Rea, 2010)
In the end the film is too bizarre to be a true horror, but too macabre and hair-raising to be a sarcastic comedy. The whole story line is somewhat questionable in class, but the overall direction of the film allows it to walk a tightrope of quality that is difficult to compare. This film is not an experience to miss. Moviegoers will either walk out of the theatre uneasy at the thought of such a thing actually happening, or scoffing at the ridiculous idea that such a thing could occur in the imagination of the writer. Either way, both groups will more than likely consider seeing it again next year.
After all, what’s not to like about single-minded geriatric villains lurking around in their birthday suit craving Gingerbread?
Ebert, Roger. "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". www.RogerEbert.com (22 December, 2010).Web. 16 August, 2013.
IMDB.com.. "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". www.IMDB.com (2010)Web. 21 August 2013.
Rea, Steven." Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". www.inquirer.com (21 December, 2010)Web. 28 August, 2013.
Rotten Tomatoes "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". www.rottentomatoes.com (2010) Web. 25 August, 2013.
Weissberg, J. "Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale". www.variety.com (13 August, 2010) Web. 18 August 2013.