Christmas movies are stale. They need new life breathed into them. Perhaps the answer lies in our view of Santa Claus as a generous gift giving plus size beard model.
Enter Rare Exports, stage left.
The Finnish film, released in 2010, is playing this week, including on Christmas itself (I’ll meet you at the theater, other Jews of Corvallis) at the Darkside Cinema. Whether you’re a Grinch or a whatever the hell those beings the Grinch hated were, do yourself a favor and enjoy this holiday gem.
The story follows a pair of brothers from a family of reindeer herders in the snowy mountains of Finland who happen upon a large and secretive excavation project going on in a mountain by their home. When they discover a tiny creepy shriveled old man who has a long white beard, they realize the excavation had unearthed Santa, and now they have a king’s ransom. But when they, and their fathers, try to sell St. Nick back to the Americans who tried to unearth him, they discover a much scarier and dangerous truth about the generous fat man.
The film is rife with head nods to classic Christmas tales, and classic horror comedies. The action is fun and just plentiful enough to keep you in the story, without bogging it down. The whole thing has a very Big Trouble in Little China meets Prancer feel to it, while also maintaining a charming level of scariness for kids and humor for adults. It’s rare that I would call a film with as many scary elements as this one a “family film,” but for the kids with a bit of steel in their stomachs, this is a perfect night out.
The acting, led by young Onni Tommila, is uniformly strong, and the little ensemble delivers a classic feeling holiday fright fest with panache to spare. The director, Jalmari Helander, is very talented, making this horror comedy feel like a slick big budget effort on a shoestring (less than 3 million dollars). He has a bright future, starting with his follow up, Big Game, due in theaters next year. It once again stars the young scene stealer Tommila, this time helping lead the injured president of the United States (played by Samuel L Jackson) out of the wilderness when Air Force One crashes.
The film serves as a nice little allegory about being “naughty or nice” at Christmas time, and remembering the true spirit of the holiday. It just does it with a decent amount of gore and humor.
Another thing the film does extremely well is managing to actually save some surprises for the theater. Based on the premise I’ve outlined here, the beats are all pretty much obvious, and you might think you already know the whole story. The trailers all expertly hide the excellent twists and turns in store.
I’ll just give you one hint: it doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice. Eventually Christmas eats us all.
You can catch Rare Exports at the Darkside on Christmas Day at 7 p.m., with showings continuing on Thursday, Dec. 26.