By Natasha Samreny
Santa Claus is neither jolly elf with rosy cheeks nor heart of gold. He doesn’t reward the good kids and he tortures the bad ones.
When Young Pietari Kontio (Omni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) stumble upon a mysterious excavation site inside reindeer country of their native Finland, Pietari catapults into his own dark uncovering of the original Kris Kringle.
Legend names the North Pole as the home of Father Christmas. It is here that the two young boys and their families of reindeer herders discover the gaping hole drilled hundreds of meters deep into the ice of Korvatunturi mountain. Pietari’s untiring imagination and dedicated search for answers through piles of Finnish folklore and a dark journey unravels a massive mystery the excavators are guarding. When an unexplained massacre of their reindeer herds happens, his family joins in on the hunt.
Rare Exports flips your expectations of what a regular Christmas movie is or should be. It’s not warm andfuzzy, there’s no love story or even interest, and there are no dancing reindeer and sleighs twinkling across the sky after midnight to deliver happiness to good girls and boys waiting in hopeful anticipation. In this story, children have no idea what’s coming, and those who are waiting up, do so in fearful anticipation of the monster called Santa.
Then we meet him, at least we think we do. L:ong beard, light eyes, white hair, Peeter Jakobi is terribly convincing as this film’s monster and the first Claus look-alike we meet. But only cold seems to emit from his body and his eyes flash instead of sparkle whenever Pietari comes near. He seems to lick his lips in anticipation of childhood flesh.
Legend has it that years ago, after tracking and punishing countless misbehaving children, the real Santa was captured by people of Korvatunturi, who froze him in ice so he could never bother them again. Pietari’s evil elf isn’t Santa but one of his lurid lackeys, stepping out of the cold shadows of time to rally around his leader now dug up from his ice block prison.
When Pietari‘s father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and his hunting buddies Aimo (Tommi Korpela) and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) get a hold of this first evildoer, they’re still clueless as to what or who he is. After he attacks Piiparinen and bites his ear, they tie the naked, animal-man to a meat hook. Wrapped in plastic sheeting with his hands tied in front of him, he sways slowly from the ceiling like a larvae, shooting them with sharp icy eyes as the men sit watching him, passing gingerbread cookies between them.
As we approach Christmas, children are being abducted, ovens and heaters stolen, and a herd of creepy Santa look-alikes swelter into the small town. Nobody but Pietarri is piecing together the mystery, and when Rauno, Aimo and Piiparinen decide to trade the evil elf in to the excavator Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen) for ransom—they find the real Santa is still stuck in the ice block and he is much larger and more evil than anyone understands.
In a way, a child’s faith does save Christmas. But it’s Pietari’s belief in himself, not in some expected fairy tale, and his persistent desire to help those around him—even to the point of self-sacrifice—that saves his family, his town and possibly the world from another legacy of Kringly sadism and child torture.
You’ll have to watch the film to see what happens. Based on a short commercial film that gathered an online cult following in 2003, the concept originated with director Jalmari Helander and credited to be developed with writers Juuso Helander, Petri Jokiranta and Sami Parkkinen. The final product is refreshing from the writing the final graphics. Since 2005, the film has garnered numerous well-deserved international film awards recognizing its originality and production.
Whether you watch it to get in or out of the over-developed, sugar-based mainstream spirit of Christmas, don’t miss Rare Exports. Get the disc and you’re in for a treat. It includes the original short film and other sweet extras. Whatever your take on the fantasy film, you will be entertained.