Based on the popular Finnish short films that took the Internet by storm starting in 2003, RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE lives up to its name with all the wintery holiday ingredients you expect—a snowy setting, reindeer, innocent children, and old men with white beards—yet it’s anything but predictable. The movie is a modern, decidedly European take on the traditional Santa Claus myth: The Saint Nick we know and love is actually a dangerous demonic entity, hidden underneath a mountain to make sure he never escapes and wreaks havoc upon the world’s children. When he’s freed from his burial ground, a local town discovers almost all of their reindeer herds have been mysteriously killed, electronics have been stolen and a number of children are missing. Soon the adults capture a strange, naked old man, but only young Pietari knows who he really is. But what do you do when you've captured Santa Claus?
The first half of RARE EXPORTS is almost perfection and feels very old-school Spielberg, setting its child protagonist and his family against a well-developed, fantastical story. It's wildly inventive while playing with holiday tropes (love the rules for protecting yourself from Santa) and there are things here that you never imagined you would see in a holiday film. (It definitely earns its R rating, though not for reasons you'd expect.) All of the actors are effortlessly great, especially the lead father and son, who share a great bond on screen. The first two acts build up suspense, intrigue and set the scene for a big battle with Santa Claus. However, that's where RARE EXPORTS wavers a bit.
Our child hero Pietari comes in to his own and takes charge leading up to the big finale, and you get behind him just like you did the kids from ATTACK THE BLOCK. [SPOILERS] However, once it's revealed that the old man is actually not Santa, but one of hundreds of "elves" who've descended upon the town to rescue the real Claus (a behemoth monster that's still frozen in a giant block of ice), the film sets itself up for expectations that can't be met with a low budget foreign indie. Perhaps due to lack of funds for special effects, all we see of Santa is two giant horns sticking out of the ice before the heroes blow him up all too easily. It feels like a cop out and a disappointing end to the great build-up director Jalmari Helander cultivates. In a movie so rife with creativity, there are definitely better ways to deal with not showing the monster that would be more satisfying. And I'm all for mystery and not spelling things out, but the film perhaps leaves too many questions unanswered and topics untouched. It's definitely missing out on a little bit of mythology that could turn this in to a fun franchise. [/SPOILERS]
There is still some greatness after the disappointing third act turn that matches up with the original short films in a fun way. It's a clever finale that ends the movie on a high note, but doesn't completely save RARE EXPORTS from being just a pretty good holiday flick as opposed to the full-fledged Christmas classic it could've been.
RARE EXPORTS INC. (7:17): This original 2003 short film was originally intended to be a gift to clients of the production company, but ended up becoming a viral hit online. It centers on a group of men hunting and tracking Father Christmases in the wild for mass corporate consumption, an inventive idea that clearly led to something bigger.
RARE EXPORTS INC: OFFICIAL SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS (10:50): The 2005 sequel further developed on the ideas in the original short, presenting a humorous safety video explaining the "rules of conduct" for dealing with Santas, and eventually played to film festivals and gained attention that led to this movie.
Making Of RARE EXPORTS (28:18): A rather raw, loosely-edited behind the scenes doc featuring rehearsal with the actors on sound stages, actual production and shooting footage, and more on sound design and the film's premiere with director Jalmari Helander.
Blood in the Snow (3:08): Concept art from preproduction with final footage comparisons.
Animatics and Computer Effects Comparisons (6:15): Two scenes from the end of the film that show original green screen and pre viz work compared to the finished movie.
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1:20:00): In the spirit of the holidays, Oscilloscope includes the full version of this Christmas "classic" B-movie that sees St. Nick kidnapped and forced to bring holiday cheer to children on Mars. Click here to read the Awfully Good review.
The set also includes a Photo Gallery, Trailers and invitation to join Oscilloscope's "Circle of Trust," a members-only club that gets you the next 10 films the company releases for $150 dollars .
Extra Tidbit: I don't remember a single female character in this movie.