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