The Singapore International Film Festival has brought in quite a few quirky and interesting genre movies this year, and while our screening of Cthulhu was cancelled (like a few other movies) we did have some other in the plans, one of which was Rare Exports – a little indie film from far far Finland, a film all about Christmas and good old Mr Santa Claus, him of the jolly white beard and red suit with a penchant for gingerbread cookies and milk – or so you’d think.
When I first had to describe Rare Exports to those watching it with me (and were clueless about it) the very first word that leapt to mind was “horror” – which I had to quickly clarify as not the horror from The Ring, but the kind of horror/schlock-fest you get from something like The Evil Dead.
I would be quite wrong about that.
So don’t go into Rare Exports expecting some sort of massive horror slasher flick – which it could have ended up being, but thankfully was not. For me, going into Rare Exports all I knew was that the movie was about evil Santa Clauses – or in this instance Joulupukki – the Finnish equivalent Mr Claus. While not exactly adherent to the Finnish mythology, the mixture of various influences of the Santa myth results in the Santa we see in the film.
So the film begins like this: An excavation along the Russian-Finnish border helps an Indiana-Jones-villain-esque archeologist come across his greatest find of all: Santa Claus. His excavation, disguised as seismic tests, is spotted by two young kids, of which Pietari is one of the two. Pietari has read extensively on the myth of Santa Claus, and based on what he’s read, he knows the village will soon be in grave danger.
An entire herd of dead reindeer later, the tiny Finnish village starts to blame the excavations for scaring the wolves down from the hills, which killed their wolves blah blah… leading to a face-off between the villagers, who want their money back (+ 22% VAT), and the excavation site.
I mentioned horror earlier, and a better description of it would be Alien-esque, fraught with a lot of tension and featuring a quite a few twists and turns. There’s never anything really scream-worthy like The Ring, nor anything filled with schlocky violence like the Evil Dead, but you really wonder what the old man that the villagers managed to capture is up to, or capable of.
The kid, Pietari, seems a little stiff at first, but watching him walk across the Finnish snow without any pants on is is a good hint as to how badass he is. Later when he rises up to fight off evil – he really becomes his role. Child actors are hard enough to handle but this little kid has tons of potential and really helped the film be watchable. Watching how he reacts to the events in the movie, and with his father, and with his pet “dog”…
This story is really all about the boy – the excavators don’t really matter, the rest of the adults there to add lots of comic relief in the same vein of other movies where kids just know more than the adults. Rauno, his father (and who I suspect is his real life dad) adds a nice dash of gravitas to the proceedings, but otherwise this is all Pietari all the way to the very ridiculous and hilarious ending.
Rare Exports is quite the fun movie. Very similar in vein to Trollhunter we reviewed yesterday, in that it takes an old Scandinavian tale and takes it to some extreme in the modern day, and is hilarious but also has lots of tension. Trollhunter, while seemingly lower in budget with the shaky cam, does end up being the movie with the bigger ideas – but Rare Exports nonetheless is also very fun, especially when it takes our expectations and flips it on its head and other times when what we expect from Santa Claus is exactly what happens.
Also: mark this movie as the one where you will see the most old man schlong ever.