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Review: Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports (2010)

Dec. 2, 2010by: Eric Walkuski

PLOT: Atop a large mountain in Finland, an excavation team has dug up a most unlikely discovery: The frozen body of Santa Claus. Not the holly jolly Santa we know from movies and cartoons, however. This is the Real Santa, a frightful being who goes around snatching up naughty children and punishing them as he sees fit. For young Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila), Santa's unearthing coincides with the slaughter of their plentiful stock of deer, which will certainly lead them to financial ruin. Someone is going to have to pay for their long winter, and it might just have to be Satan himself.

REVIEW: I think I'm close to alone in thinking this movie completely misses the mark. Judging by the myriad of positive buzz RARE EXPORTS is riding into the States, including winning a few choice awards (Best Film at the Sitges Film Festival), I must have missed something everyone else didn't. Of course, films are totally subjective, but EXPORTS should have hooked me: bizarre sights and mythical creatures, a unique personality that can't be relegated into one genre, a dark, semi-deranged sense of humor lurking underneath its every scene. There's a lot to like about this quirky film - but I'm not personally doing any of the liking.

We've seen maniacal Santa movies before; most are for shit, as we know, but it's still a strangely alluring sub-genre. It seems so damn wrong to have a psycho dressed as Santa, who as children is the personification of hope and joy, even past the point where we know he's (spoiler alert!) not real. The big fellow embodies the warm and toasty holiday season, and when you've got an imposter in his outfit murdering the innocent, it's a button-pusher. RARE EXPORTS takes the idea in a new direction: Santa is real and his reality has been distorted into the myth we know so well. The truth is, he does have a list of the naughty and nice, and the naughty get snatched up and replaced by a creepy straw doll. Our young protagonist Pietari is naturally the first to catch on to this, and only after his father and his two co-workers wind up with the dirty, crazed-looking Kris Kringle do they understand the gravity of the situation... not to mention the potential financial windfall it could provide.

As it sounds, RARE EXPORTS plays out like a twisted fairy tale; not quite a horror movie but not quite for kiddies, it strives for that nostalgic middle ground the Amblin movies of the 80s were able to achieve. (Think GREMLINS, "Amazing Stories", etc.) Several sequences will unnerve squeamish youngsters, like one where Santa lays unconscious atop a slab as two men prepare to chop him to bits, or another where dozens of nude, weapon-wielding old men shuffle ominously toward our heroes. (Come to think of it, that one unnerved me.) These scenes reside in a movie that's mostly about a lonely father and son trying to make their Christmas as undepressing as possible, seeing as there's no woman in the household and the father can't even make a satisfactory meal for his boy. Moments of tenderness and moments of morbidity sit alongside each other, and director Jalmari Helander earns some kudos for attempting this melding of the fantastic and the gruesome... but an attempt is all it remains. Like a puzzle that won't cooperate, RARE EXPORTS frustratingly never quite gets it together, isn't able to balance the macabre and the whimsical, despite its best efforts.

Ultimately the film goes totally bonkers in the third act, where its charm wears off and a kind of goofy surreality takes over. I won't describe the movie's major sight gag, but it's just too silly to work for me, although I don't doubt that RARE EXPORTS' major supporters will point to it as evidence of its eccentric originality. I'm not on board, but hopefully that doesn't earn me a spot on Santa's shit-list. Still don't want to piss the guy off.

5 out of 10

The RARE EXPORTS trailer

Extra Tidbit: RARE EXPORTS opens in limited release on DECEMBER 3rd.
Source: AITH

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9:28AM on 12/02/2010
I can't vouch for the feature yet, but Helander made a couple of short films of the same title that I really find morbidly hilarious, and worth a look.
I can't vouch for the feature yet, but Helander made a couple of short films of the same title that I really find morbidly hilarious, and worth a look.
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10:05AM on 12/02/2010
Nice to see I was not alone in thinking this is overrated. Slick visuals, good initial premise; didn't like how the flick went about it, its tone didn't gel with me and yes; I expected this to be about Santa, not his homeless, crack head looking Elves.
Nice to see I was not alone in thinking this is overrated. Slick visuals, good initial premise; didn't like how the flick went about it, its tone didn't gel with me and yes; I expected this to be about Santa, not his homeless, crack head looking Elves.
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10:21AM on 12/02/2010
Mmm, it got a rave review on 'Film 2010' here in the UK last night and I'm more than willing to go with Claudia Winkleman's opinion because I have a thing for her squinty little black eyes.
Mmm, it got a rave review on 'Film 2010' here in the UK last night and I'm more than willing to go with Claudia Winkleman's opinion because I have a thing for her squinty little black eyes.
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