Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale -- Film Review

A darkly mischievous, bracingly original and thoroughly captivating Yuletide import.

Considering the foreboding Finnish landscape, the extensive reindeer carnage and that notably tall, emaciated, naked elderly elf, it’s readily apparent that "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" is no twinkling Hallmark ornament of a holiday romp.

Instead, writer-director Jalmari Helander has delivered something far more gratifying — a fiendishly entertaining Christmas yarn rooted in Northern European legend and lore, complete with a not-so-jolly old St. Nick informed more by the Brothers Grimm than Norman Rockwell.

While the richly atmospheric package has been wrapped with a healthy dose of wry satire, it’s not of the mean-spirited Bad Santa variety. Helander, a successful commercial director in his native Helsinki, shrewdly blends just the right amounts of fairy tale wonder and action movie heroics into the oddball mix to highly satisfying effect.

Film festival audiences have already responded enthusiastically, with the film taking the Piazza Grande Award at Locarno as well as the top prizes at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Fest.

Closer to home Rare Exports, opening in New York Dec. 3 followed on Dec. 10 in Los Angeles and additional cities, deserves to earn itself a respectable cult following.

With northern Finland’s Korvatunturi Mountains providing the imposing backdrop, the tale kicks off with an archaeological team directed to rip the lid off what proves to be a veritable Pandora’s box.

Although we’re initially kept in the dark as to what they’ve unearthed, intrepid young Pietari (Onni Tommila) begins to get a good idea when something has already gotten to his rural community’s annual winter food supply.

His widowed dad, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), a butcher, believes wolves to be responsible for slaughtering all the reindeer, but Pietari has been doing his homework, combing through old books filled with garish images of the demonic Krampus, in charge of handing out nasty punishments to all the naughty children.

When all his friends suddenly go missing and the above-mentioned old scrawny, naked guy shows up in his dad’s wolf trap, it becomes clear that the Krampus has been sprung from his frozen tomb.

To reveal any more would be to rob the film of its ticklish surprises, but suffice it to say Helander has woven quite the holiday tapestry, complete with stirring imagery (vividly captured by cinematographer Mika Orasmaa, who took home one of those Sitges prizes) and, ultimately, an enormous horned Santa who’d decidedly go better with Guillermo del Toro than Coca-Cola.

Opened: Dec. 3 (New York), Dec. 10 (L.A.) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Production companies: CINET, Pomor Film, Love Streams agnes b. Prods., Davaj Film, FilmCamp, Filmpool Nord
Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen
Director-screenwriter: Jalmari Helander
Producers: Petri Jokiranta
Director of photography: Mika Orasmaa
Production designer: Jalmari Helander
Music: Juri Seppa, Miska Seppa
Costume designer: Saija Siekkinen
Editor: Kimmo Taavila
No rating, 80 minutes