If you’re one of those people that thinks old man naughty bits need not be incompatible with the revelry of the Christmas holiday, than have I got a movie for you!
The ladies over at Final Girl Support Group beat me to the punch by posting a review of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale last week. Written by one of their guest contributors, it’s quite good. Read it, of course, after you’re finished reading my take on this fine Finnish fantasy film.
I was at my sister’s house the other day for a family gathering when I had the chance to browse through a collection of antique books that she and her husband had acquired along with their home, a very old and incredibly cool farmhouse in rural South Jersey. (It’s a long story as to why the books came with the house and not particularly germane to the point I’m attempting to make.)
So, my sis points out a book of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and tells me that her husband’s grandfather had been reading them to her kids. She also casually mentions that some of the stories and poems are quite…
“Racist?” I mustered a guess.
“Dark,” she answered. “Disturbing.”
“I see,” I said, wondering how much sleep she’s going to miss out on somewhere down the line when her kids wake up screaming because they just had a nightmare that a witch was trying to cook them in an oven or that a wolf had eaten their grandmother.
Of course, when it comes down to it there really is no protecting your children from nightmare fuel. I was traumatized by E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Faces of Death when I was little. Now, with the Internet, the chances are pretty high that most kids at some point in their childhood are going to see something that’s going to fuck them up. Most likely it’s not going to be something as innocent as the covers of horror movie VHS boxes which used to TORTURE MY EVERY WAKING THOUGHT.
The reality, of course, is that we usually get over these silly little fears with little permanent damage.
Yet, the pressure exists to this day to “Disneyfy” anything that might be remotely troubling to our precious offspring. Who’s responsible for this pressure, you ask?
HEY. Did you know Santa Claus used to be really scary?
In the United States, Santa Claus has pretty much always been the jolly red elf that kids know and love. In Finland, however, Santa Claus is Joulupukki or “Yule Goat” and – although today Joulupukki resembles the Americanized Santa Claus – Joulupukki wasn’t always so charming. Originally, Joulupukki was an evil spirit who scared children and demanded presents rather than gave them out. Pagans held ceremonies to ward him off.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is rooted in actual folklore and beliefs and, in that way, differs itself from other “killer Santa” movies. Director Jalmair Halander significantly fills in the blanks in terms of what is actually known about Joulupukki’s origins – researchers are still even unsure how what was believed to be a malevolent creature morphed into the Santa Claus of today. Still, the Santa creature which is at the heart of Rare Exports is based on mythology — sort of — making Rare Exports a very rare type of killer Santa movie indeed.
Uniqueness always guarantees some points in my book. Still, Rare Exports is flawed. As a horror film or even a horror-comedy, it doesn’t quite work. Rare Exports is not horror film, in my opinion, however, the promotional material (the trailers and otherwise) does make it seem that way. Perhaps my preconceived notions about the movie may have affected my enjoyment of it.
Just when Rare Exports seems like it’s going to get scary, it never quite takes the plunge into straight horror.
As a dark fantasy, however, it’s a lot of fun (See Trollhunter for another example of this.) How can you wrong with a story about American archaeologists uncovering the long lost tomb of Joulipukki, causing his elves to rally together in an attempt to resurrect him? You can’t. You really can’t.
For someone unfamiliar with the landscape of Finland, I really enjoyed the setting — desolate mountaintops, snow as far as the eye can see, the very place you could imagine Joulipukki calling home. Add to the fantastic cinematography some some really well done makeup effects and you have a film that’s very nice to look at — and did I mention it’s about a killer Santa Claus? Yeah, that’s the part that’s going to make you decide whether or not you want to see Rare Exports. I wouldn’t not recommend you see it. Maybe you’ll get something out of it that I didn’t. At the very least, Rare Exports encouraged me to do a little research into the mythology of Santa Claus. How many movies are there about the Joulipukki anyway?
The verdict? Nice.
I probably should mention that Rare Exports is based on these two short films: