Finland isn’t the first country that comes to mind with regard to almost anything, but perhaps it’s high time we start giving it more recognition for its apparently immense contributions to the ever-churning industrial machine that is the modern, commercial Christmas. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale explores just how this has come to be with its insight into the intricate and dangerous supply chain activities of the oft-overlooked market for those Santas you see in malls and at town halls each December. How compelling is the look into the underbelly of this industry? Continue on to find out but beware of spoiling the Christmas magic in doing so. I’m diving in.
Reviewed by: Jake
Welcome to the Finnish lapland. Present(ish) day. What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of this word “lapland”, and you’re pretty sure I’m just making shit up at this point? Well that may be true, but the lapland is a real place, and it’s here:
As you can imagine, this is a cold, sparsely populated region. An example of industry to be found here is reindeer herding/slaughtering. It may not sound lucrative but it’s a way of life for some towns in the region, including the rural farmstead of Rauno and his son, Pietari (Pete-Rock).
While doing kid stuff, Pete and his buddy discover an excavation team conducting a dig on top of a nearby mountain, and snoop at the perfect time to hear that the company has struck something buried far below the ice. Something valuable… Naturally, Pete assumes it’s Santa Claus.
From here, we are treated to a classic situation where no one believes the kid despite his persistent questioning, insubordinate behavior and all around ass-headedness towards his poor, single, reindeer herding father. Tale as old as time. It turns out Pete may be onto something though, as the season’s reindeer herd is straight up eradicated by some mysterious force on the edge of town. Soon thereafter, kids start disappearing, being replaced with exquisitely creepy dolls. These developments quickly make Pete’s choice to rock an old Jofa helmet and cover his sphincter with cardboard and duct tape a little more understandable.
Eventually, Rauno captures an old man in a trap he’d setup to kill a wolf, and the townsfolk quickly realize he’s not just an old man. He’s some sort of feral beast driven by the scent of children and gingerbread, and he wants into Rauno’s boy’s soul. The discovery sends them up to the top of the mountain to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. What they discover is a demon the size of a Mcdonald’s encased in ice, whose exhumation has seemingly awoken a horde of the foul beasts in the skin of men (AKA elves). As they close in, Pete comes to the rescue and leads the elves to the reindeer pen by helicopter, using the children they had previously captured for Santa to eat as bait. Meanwhile Rauno blows Santa Claus into about fifteen billion pieces with dynamite.
Seeing the gap in the market, the group nixes the poorly paying reindeer industry to undertake the capture, training and export of Santa’s helpers as mall Santas. What ingenuity.
It’s a wonder why Finland isn’t a juggernaut on the world’s economic stage.
What the Movie Does Right
In a word, uniqueness. This is a movie unlike most. It’s a batshit silly concept and a riff on Christmas lore that forms an oddball action/horror/fantasy/comedy that hits most of the right beats throughout. We at A-Z Horror are on record as being in support of movies that make decisions, and Rare Exports MAKES FUCKING DECISIONS. The movie plays itself almost totally seriously, while clearly poking fun at the total commercialization of the Christmas holiday by having these simple country folk literally commodotize Santa Claus. It’s an interesting and welcome departure from typical. This is also before mentioning that this was only made after the creation of two short films. This movie actually acts as a prequel to them. If you’re interested, here they are:
For being as silly as the movie is, it’s not without some chills either. There is an uneasiness to the entire film directed up toward that mountain and the evil that has been unearthed. Then, there are the more tangible scares like the dolls the elves replace the stolen children with.
Finally, there are some really nice touches in this film from an effects standpoint. The sets are extremely well designed and carry a great level of detail. The costuming is also great and combines to create a good sense of place for such an out of the way location. The sound design, and the score in particular, is also fantastic.
What the Movie Does Wrong
So. Much. Dong.
Another area where the movie suffers a bit is on the cgi front. For all the good set design and costuming in this film, there is just as much rather regrettable cgi. I’m inclined to not go crazy on this one because even with a much larger budget (theirs was a little south of $2 million), there would be almost no way to do some of the things they did without some heavy computer intervention. Now, I’d have loved to see a real three story ice block with an embedded practical Santa demon dummy be blown to kingdom come as much as the next red-blooded American, but that’s a bit much. I’m just saying that when Pete’s marauding around on a cargo net suspended from a helicopter above hundreds of naked, feral old men, it looks a little off.
Finally, there’s some funky pacing at times in this movie. The film clocks in at an extremely tight 82 minutes, but some of the exposition and concept establishment feels like it comes at inopportune times. There were certain things that made absolutely no sense that probably could have been explained efficiently, and there were other, more relationship-driven sequences that sucked the wind out of the sails a bit.
Story: 8 - I love the concept of this movie. It’s an original and brilliant take on Christmas lore. It’s completely batshit, but manages to strike a good balance of humor and dread.
World-Building / Immersion: 5 - There is simply too much dong in this movie for me to give it high marks in this category. On a more personal note, it’s also hard for me to lose myself in a world when I’m reading subtitles. While I don’t dislike them, I think it’s worth noting that you will be very aware you are watching a film when you’re reading the exposition.
Scare-Factor: 3 - This isn’t really a scary film but the idea is creepy and it does a relatively good job of building dread throughout the film. The dolls are also very creepy, and it goes without saying that being hunted by an army of naked, old men would be a terrifying and mystifying experience.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - This is a tale of two scores for me. The set design, costuming, and score are all great. The cgi is not great and probably hasn’t aged all that well BUT I also don’t want to punish the movie for its use of cgi considering I have no idea how some of its concepts would be executed otherwise.
Overall: 7 - This is an interesting, entertaining and unique take on Christmas-themed horror that I think absolutely warrants a watch, if not a full-fledged spot in your annual rotation.