reindeer-herd migration winds up massacred near the mining operation. Pietari (Onni Tommila), the young son of gruff widower/reindeer butcher Rauno (played by Onni’s real-life father, Jorma Tommila), thinks he knows what led to the herd’s demise but worries that he might be partly responsible.
The men pin the deer slaughter on a pack of wolves, but Pietari, having read up on Joulupukki and Krampus, is convinced that something more sinister is afoot. After food supplies, cold-weather equipment, and some children disappear in the dead of night, Rauno begins to believe his son’s wild stories about the unleashing of a bloodthirsty Santa. When Rauno learns of the mining operation’s subterranean find, he and the other hunters concoct a not-so-solid plan to recoup their losses from the reindeer herd’s decimation while restoring safety and security to their village.
Helander abstains from turning his bizarre holiday tale into a formulaic B-movie gore fest in the vein of many other bad-Santa films by dancing at the edge of horror, letting the unknown and unseen serve as volatile fuel for his constantly whirring tension machine. There are unidentifiable footsteps in the snow, strange sounds in the biting wind, bait missing from oversized traps, and something shapeless in the dark. Juri Seppä’s dramatic score maintains the mood.
Fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing will appreciate cinematographer Mika Orasmaa’s ability to capture northern Finland’s panoramic beauty and sense of isolation. Plein-air scenes convey a crisp coldness, while indoors, there’s a feeling that the wooden walls and sturdy hearth provide little protection from the elements — and the evil — lurking just outside.
Helander writes, and his two main actors deliver, a compelling and convincing father-son dynamic heavily influenced by the absence of a once-familiar wife/mother figure. Macho-man Rauno’s marital loss eventually surfaces, and Pietari’s defiance and fear of his father are grounded in the seemingly sudden disappearance of maternally based emotional support. Pietari is wary of entering the barn where his father butchers the reindeer, and he drags around (and talks to) a stuffed animal on a leash. When things go wonky in the weather-outside-isfrightful neighborhood, papa doesn’t console his prepubescent son with hugs and lullabies. He gives the kid a loaded rifle and sends him on the path to becoming a man.
Pietari’s mother’s absence from the home is never explained, and there seem to be no other women in this neck of Finland. After honing and expanding on this particular story line for the better part of a decade, Helander’s omission of the feminine is undoubtedly intentional, although he doesn’t see fit to let the rest of us in on that intent.
What the writer/director does clarify, through plot and allegory, is his disdain for the consumerist nature of the holiday season, manifested here in a greedy corporate mining interest and its impact on a small village of career hunters struggling to survive. After the big finale, which is drenched in E.T: The Extraterrestrial-styled Spielberg splendor (minus space aliens, thank goodness), a surprise twist finds the hunters swapping their rifles for wooden crates and rare exports. And as for Pietari? He still believes in Santa Claus, but he’s traded in his teddy bear for the scope of a shotgun.
I’ve been nice! Really nice! Onni Tommila