Santa’s slayride

Jolly old St Nick gets a creepy makeover in this wild Fin­nish fan­tasy, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

THE LIST of truly great Christ­mas films is not so strong as you might think (see Screen Writer, page 32). Do not, thus, get too over-ex­cited by the news that this agree­ably bizarre Fin­nish film may have hacked its way into the top 10.

Rare Ex­ports is not quite a clas­sic. But in the fields of orig­i­nal­ity, nerve and sheer odd­ness, it achieves no­table dis­tinc­tion. En­e­mies of Christ­mas – all that ghastly good cheer – will find it par­tic­u­larly de­li­cious.

Reintroducing grim (even Grimm) horror to a worn-out leg­end, the film be­gins in La­p­land with a firm nod to­wards John Car­pen­ter’s ver­sion of The Thing. Up in the frozen wastes, a party of ar­chae­ol­o­gists are drilling away at Mount Kor­vatun­turi. They’re a hardy sort, but, for some rea­son, signs warn against any curs­ing, smok­ing or drink­ing.

Two lo­cal chil­dren watch from a dis­tance as the sin­is­ter com­pany hap­pens upon some­thing cu­ri­ous in the per­mafrost. Could they have found Santa Claus?

It’s amus­ing to con­sider that such a synopsis could eas­ily form the ba­sis for a cosy Dis­ney pic­ture. Di­rec­tor Jal­mari He­lander has, how­ever, some­thing al­to­gether creepier in mind. Herds of rein­deer are slaugh­tered. Un­usual and in­ex­pli­ca­ble foot­prints ap­pear in the snow. Even­tu­ally the town’s chil­dren start to go missing. It tran­spires that this Fa­ther Christ­mas, far from be­ing the jolly fat bore in the Coca Cola com­mer­cials, is a malev­o­lent de­mon with an un­com­pro­mis­ing at­ti­tude to­wards the naughty.

He­lander is to be praised for treat­ing the ma­te­rial with a fear­some se­ri­ous­ness. There is cer­tainly much mor­bid hu­mour about – how could there not be with such a sce­nario? How­ever, for most of its du­ra­tion, Rare Ex­ports, filmed in a gor­geously pre­cise dig­i­tal medium, deals in a queasily clammy class of ram­pag­ing un­ease.

If the film has a flaw, it is that its roots in a se­ries of ac­claimed short films show through at the close. The fi­nal, overly neat punch­line is bet­ter suited to a sketch than a fea­ture.

That noted, Rare Ex­ports re­mains a crack­ingly imag­i­na­tive take on an ex­hausted trope. It hardly needs to be said that it is not in­tended for younger or more frag­ile chil­dren.

You bet­ter watch out: a Fa­ther Christ­mas from the old coun­try in Rare Ex­ports

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