Christmas has come and gone, I know, but blame Netflix for this late review - they went down on Christmas Eve as I was about to watch the last part of the film, and I didn't get to finish it until after Christmas had left its wrapping paper rippings. Still, it's nice to extend the holiday a little bit longer, if only to incorporate a movie about evil elves and a Krampus-like Santa Claus who steal children and place them at the feet of a frozen but thawing Saint Nick.
Rare Exports got a lot of recognition back when it first came out; I've heard a lot about it since, and it seemed like a pretty promising idea for Christmas. It doesn't really take the ideas of older Christmas horror to heart - there's no guy who dresses up like Santa to kill, but instead it forces the viewer to accept the fact that, in this film, Santa is real and he's not a nice dude. I can dig it, and I ran with it.
Rare Exports is set in Finland, and though there are smatterings of English thrown around, subtitles are necessary because the film follows Rauno (Jorma Tommila), a reindeer hunter, and his son Pietari (Onni Tommila). They live out in the icy climes of Finland, hunting reindeer and trying to make ends meet with the meat and pelts they get from the animals, but it's obviously not a rich and lavish lifestyle. Rauno's friends Aimo (Tommi Korpela) and Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) are in the same boat, struggling to make ends meet; this is important, because a demolition company blows a chunk of mountain up to excavate something ancient and decidedly evil beneath its crust.
Once the excavation is finished, Rauno and company find a hell of a lot of reindeer slaughtered; something got to them and ate them, and now their pelts are useless to hunters. So they gear up for battle with the mining company, only to find that something more sinister and festive awaits them.
Rare Exports has an interesting premise, and the anticipation for the unearthing works well because it is planted in our minds right from the beginning of the film. The movie starts out slow; it focuses on the relationship between Rauno and Pietari, which is obviously somewhat strained, especially around Christmastime when emotions run high and money's running low. Pietari is a smart, kind boy, while his friend Juuso is somewhat lazy, dimwitted, and mean. Writer/director Jalmari Helander makes reference to the naughty/nice theme of the season; Pietari is nice, and so it makes sense he is not taken by Santa's helpers, while Juuso is naughty and is snatched.
It's a fairly standard theme, and that's what Rare Exports works off of most. The relationship between Rauno and Pietari takes time to develop, but there's no surprise when the film builds a strong bond between the two in the latter half of the film. These are things common to films of this nature, but Rare Exports misses the mark a little here because the slow pacing isn't as necessary as it appears to be at the outset.
But it's the strange flip-flop the film has in its latter half that makes Rare Exports a head-scratcher. While the first half starts out fairly dry, the second half really amps up the action. We go from eerie, cold atmosphere to over-the-top effects in no time at all. Plus, we get a lot of naked grizzly men to look at, which could either be a plus or minus for some people. It's not that Rare Exports doesn't do the more action-oriented parts well; it's just that it seems like a huge distance from where the film started out.
Still, I enjoyed both aspects of the film, and must admit that despite being less-believable, the second half is a thrill ride not seen in any other Christmas horror film. It's just too bad that Rare Exports couldn't stick with one mood throughout; the beginning feels a little like wasted time until the secret of Santa Claus is unearthed. Then, the film becomes a thrill ride all the way.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is the kind of movie that's fun to watch on a cold night before Christmas. But it does have its fair share of flaws, and despite the good reviews for it, it feels lacking in significant places - a strong story, for one, but it also misses out on some of the best parts about the first half of the film. The cold, slow burn at the start peters out in favor of explosions and ugly elves, and it makes Rare Exports seem uneven, a gift that feels heavy when carried but is surprisingly light once opened.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on Rotten Tomatoes