Running time: 84 mins
Director: Jalmari Helander
Starring: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi, Onni Tommila, Joanthan Hutchings
Rauno Kontio (Jorma Tommila) and his crew have unearthed a mystery nearly 500 metres down in the Korvatunturi mountains before all the reindeers mysteriously die and the children go missing. It’s only when Rauno’s son Pietari (played by actual son Onni) discovers a book detailing the Santa legend that the arrival of a bearded old man take on a sense of menace. Like most alternative Christmas films Rare Exports establishes the groundwork for the story in the origins of the Christmas period and the (well understood notion) that over time Santa Claus, Christmas and the rituals surrounding him have been sanitised for public consumption. This is done rather well, the montage sequence of Pietari reading, shots of illustrations of Santa making Christmas stew (out of children) and the magically festive score by Juri & Miska Seppa with undertones of the best of Danny Elfman. It all ties together to create a darkly rich setting that’s oddly in keeping with the festive spirit…sort of.
Saint contains but with an extra something as it can’t help but pass a nod towards John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s impressive that a film can create a genuine feeling of claustrophobia in a wide open range in the middle of
Lapland and credit belongs Mika Orasmaa (who’s work on next years Nazi sci-fi Iron Sky looks simply beautiful).
This is, unfortunately, where the praise ends. Jalmari Helander (writer and director) is an experienced creative force who has worked predominantly in short films which explains almost everything that’s wrong with the film. Rare Exports lacks any real suspense or terror beyond the initial premise as it doesn’t have a second act and therefore is seriously lacking in the classical idea of a narrative triadic structure. When it’s established that Santa Claus is a kidnapper and eater of children this is an opportunity for the film makers to change gear and ramp up the tension and the claustrophobia that comes from the isolation of the region. Where The Thing excels not just in creating claustrophobia but also the idea of a predator meticulously picking off members of the crew, Rare Exports only really threatens characters we have never really met and therefore don’t care about. The revelation that their hostage is in fact not Santa and that Santa is a lot greater in stature than the mythology indicates is the perfect opportunity to unleash him and push the killer Claus element of the narrative forward. Rare Exports is pitching itself as a monster movie but we are never actually shown the monster. Imagine Troll Hunter without the troll, Godzilla never being seen or Jaws without the great white popping out of the water and you’d be right on course for the level of disappointment you’ll experience. The film then jumps to the third act of the structure to restoring order but the order was never properly been disturbed and rather than feeling glad that the protagonists have survived it feels more like they’ve been the antagonists of the piece having detonated explosives in an expansive part of the region and “resolved” a problem that never really existed. The entire film is one tone, flat and uninvolved. It’s a thriller lacking any thrills, a horror without any moments of horror and missing an entire hours worth of conflict to justify the ending of the film.