In the 2010 Finish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, it’s not just important to believe in Santa Claus — you must also fear him. For the feature length adaptation of the 2003 short film “Rare Exports Inc.,” director Jalmari Helander expands on his and Juuso Helander’s darkly comedic take on the Christmas tradition. The two filmmakers must have gotten a lot of coal in their stockings as kids because their view of Christmas is just slightly warped. But in the Christmas film sub-genre — a baron wasteland full of forced sentimentality and cloying emotional manipulation — sometimes a little warped humor is a whole lot of fun.
Child actor Onni Tommila stars as Pietari Kontio, a young boy petrified of Santa Claus. He has good reason to be too. As it turns out, the Santa Claus plastered on Coca-Cola bottles is a hoax. The real deal is a bloodthirsty feral animal with a taste for the flesh of naughty boys and girls.
After a Russian team of archeologists dig up the frozen remains of good ol’ Saint Nick, a trail of murder, animal mutilations and mysterious footprints on the roofs of houses all point to one thing — Santa Claus is watching over a small village at the base of the Korvatunturi mountains. It’s up to Pietari, his father and a local group of reindeer herders to catch whatever is out there causing all the mischief and — if they can — sell it to the highest bidder.
Especially coming from the bright, reflective color palate, there’s an EC Comics vibe to the whole film. The movie feels, more so than even the first two very entertaining Tales from the Crypt films, like a spiritual successor to the pre-Code horror comic books of yore. The movie isn’t especially violent or gory but the wicked black humor dreamt up by Helander is the kind of tongue-in-cheek comedy in horror that’s sorely missing from modern cinemas today. The film has a whimsy to its scares that actually helps make the frightening bits all the more startling. When audiences are distracted with laughter and caught off guard with a bit of unexpected violence, the stifled screams are genuine.
The team of Finish actors assembled for Rare Exports all give great performances — playing the story completely straight even as it descends into pure, joyful wackiness. This is a movie not afraid to get silly at times but it portrays that silliness with such a profound respect to its story that you can’t help but get caught up in the proceedings.
The film knows its way around classic Santa folklore. Even more importantly, though, it knows how to build an enriched mythology around itself — enveloping the world its built in thick, juicy back-story and faux legends like a Snuggie. Rare Exports genuinely feels lived in. Despite how fresh and exciting the story is, there’s something well worn and familiar about the way that story is told.
Rare Exports, more than this summer’s much-ballyhooed Super 8, pitch perfectly captures the feel and tone of classic Amblin Entertainment. From the bravery of children wildly out of their element to the beautiful blend of special effects magic and strong performances to just the gee-wiz wonder of an unpredictable story told right, Rare Exports feels like the perfect movie to share with your monster loving kid this Christmas.
Of course, considering that Rare Exports is occasionally very bloody and even more frequently quite scary, you might want to make sure your kid can handle the horror first — or else your bad parenting skills might end with you being the one to get coal in your stocking this holiday season.
The film is presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p high-definition. The audio is available in either Finish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or Finnish LPCM 2.0. The film looks amazing and features rich colors, sharp detail. The sound remains clear and distinct — with the audio mixing making full use of the various stereo channels.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Presented exclusively on the Blu-ray release is the 1964 cult classic about a Martian-kidnapped Santa Claus who has to bring Christmas to the red planet. The film is in the public domain and — predictably is pretty beat up and most definitely not in high definition. That said, there’s something charming about the rustic, aged print used in the transfer. This is a nice bonus to an already great film.
Original Finnish Trailer and Photo Gallery: Exactly what it says, in HD.
Animatics and Computer Effects Comparison: Two HD featurettes exploring the work of effects house Fake Graphics.
Blood in the Snow: A Look at the Concept Art: A gallery of artwork done up to plan for the film’s production.
The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: A nearly 30-mintue HD mini-doc about the making of the movie. This is essentially a fly-on-the-wall video diary and, while not too informative, a whole lot of fun.
Rare Exports Inc. Short Films: As mentioned above, the film got its start as a short film (and a subsequent sequel to that short film). Both films are collected in standard definition. Combined, the films have a runtime of a little under 20 minutes and are both very entertaining in their own right. Since much of the short films spoil some of the surprises you have in store for you within Rare Exports, I’d recommend watching these after the film.
Oscilloscope Pictures presents Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Directed by: Jalmari Helander. Starring: Jorma Tommila, Peeter Jakobi and Onni Tommi. Written by Jalmari Helander from a story by Helander and Juuso Helander. Running time: 84 min. Rating: R. Originally released in 2010. Released on Blu-ray: October 25, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Amblin Entertainment, Santa Claus, Steven Spielberg, Super 8, Tales from the Crypt