By Elford Alley. This is RETROGRADING, where we always follow the rules.
THE FILM: Rare Exports
THE TIME: 2010. The same year we were gifted with the underrated Norwegian found footage gem Trollhunter, Finnish director and writer Jalmari Helander released his Christmas horror opus, Rare Exports.
RECOLLECTIONS: In recent years, Krampus has enjoyed a renewed spotlight in pop culture, which makes it no surprise that Rare Exports has managed to snare a cult following. In Rare Exports, we discover that Kris Kringle was actually a horned demon who relished dishing out torment to naughty children, or anyone who curses, acts rude, or doesn’t follow any of his arbitrary rules. As 2015’s excellent The Hallow did with fairies, this movie shows how our traditions can mask the disturbing roots of our beloved myths and legends, even when it comes to our favorite jolly old elf.
In Rare Exports, reindeer are food and his elves are gaunt, sickly-looking bearded men who work tirelessly to gather and cage ill-behaved children (and have a love of gingerbread and raw flesh). As his elves work to revive their master, a handful of rural residents discover herds of slaughtered deer, missing persons, and a spate of vanished heaters and hair dryers (crucial to resurrecting Santa).
Audiences were first introduced to the Helander’s dark take on the Santa mythos with two short films, 2003’s Rare Exports Inc and 2005’s Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions. (The shorts are still available on Vimeo and definitely worth checking out.) The film acts as a prequel, introducing us to the men who operate Rare Exports, showing how their unique business of capturing Santa’s elves and training them to be non-murderous mall St. Nicks began.
THE DIRECTOR: Jalmari Helander directed commercials before moving onto short films and increasingly bigger budget fare like Rare Exports and Big Game. Much of his work involves taking a ridiculous story ideas and committing to them completely, which actually allows them to flourish. In a world of Sharknados, we need that more than ever.
THE CAST: Any film benefits tremendously from a great cast, as is the case with Rare Exports. That’s especially true of the younger cast members: Pietari (Onni Tommila), the ten-year-old protagonist who seems to be one of the few people aware of the true threat the real Santa Claus poses; and Juuso (Ilmari Jarvenpaa), Pietari’s best friend, malcontent, and almost-victim of the bearded fat man himself.
Pietari’s father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila, also the real-life father of Onni Tommila), is a stoic struggling to provide for his son until a terrifying turn of events lands him and his good friend Aimo (Tommi Korpela) the opportunity of a lifetime.
Finally, Brian Greene (Jonathan Hutchings) is an American businessman (and let’s be honest, basically a stand-in for our overseas reputation), completely unwilling to act on the local legends about Santa Claus, blinded by his obsession with resurrecting the real thing from a burial mound prison, consequences be damned.
NOSTALGIA-FEST OR REPRESSED NIGHTMARE? Nostalgia-Fest. Although only six years have passed since its release, this film is still an enjoyable balance of horror and comedy, offering relatable characters and creating an unsettling atmosphere in the process. A great creepy Christmas classic on par with Gremlins or Ernest Saves Christmas.
RETROGRADE: 6.5 out of 10