Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holidaze Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

“The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax.”

So explains Pietari (Onni Tommila), the shy young son of Rauno (Jorma Tommila), a reindeer hunter in a small Finnish village near the Russian border.

Pietari would know: He’s been pouring over books with ancient woodcuts and researching the heck out of the subject ever since the American crew with their hardhats and digging equipment began excavating the nearby mountain where he is convinced that Santa Claus is buried.

Pietari also has a point: Even though the legend of Santa Claus is centuries old, the popular perception of him—jolly, fat, red suit, ho ho ho, all that—is of much more recent vintage. Whether you’re looking at Clement Moore’s poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” the illustrations of Thomas Nast or, yes, the advertising art of Coca-Cola, our popular perception of Old St. Nick comes from within the last couple of centuries—and is almost wholly American.

So it’s more than a bit (intentionally) ironic that it’s an American excavation crew that digs into the nearby mountain and releases…something.

Something that slaughters most of the reindeer on which the inhabitants of the village make their money. Something that makes all the Americans disappear. Something that steals all the heating devices in the village (stoves, radiators, blow dryers, etc.)…and more.

It’s up to introverted Pietori, angry, bitter dad Rauno (who nonetheless makes tasty Christmas cookies) and Rauno’s buddies to solve the mystery, stop the mayhem and somehow survive Christmas.

Rare Exports is an unusual hybrid: An action/horror holiday comedy that doesn’t skimp on any of the above. It’s also got plenty of chases, explosions, cursing and gore; no wonder it’s the rare Christmas movie that’s rated R.

With all that, though, there’s a reminder that, for all the bright lights, glass balls and tinsel, Christmas has some older, darker traditions. Pietori’s research reveals a Santa Claus who is fierce and frightening, tormenting and eating children whether they’ve been naughty, nice or anywhere in between.

(There seems to be a conflation of Santa Claus and Krampus, his traditional demon-like companion who punished the bad children while Santa presumably rewarded the good. Or, perhaps, it’s a really subtle suggestion that the two are one and the same—and always have been. Given how smart and well observed the movie is otherwise, I’ll assume it’s the latter.)
There’s also the emotional center of the film: The relationship between Pietori and Rauno, who are both suffering through the holiday without Pietori’s mom, but find out how much they need each other just to make it past December 25 alive—and how capable the underestimated, picked-on Pietori can be in a crisis.

Rare Exports provides an antidote for those who are weary of holiday cheer--and for those who have always suspected that something sinister hides behind that red suit and white beard.

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