Friday, December 24, 2010

Rare Exports

Merry Christmas, readers.

I don't have much time to spend on this today - I've still got brothers and parents to Christmas-shop for and right around four hours to do it and wrap them before another brother arrives to bring me to Maine (because it's not cold enough for me in Boston, I've got to head north).

Still, a tight schedule seems fitting. That's how it arrived in theaters, with Oscilloscope Labs purchasing the movie at September's Fantastic Fest and then getting it turned around for a December release, trying to fit a horror movie into boutique houses' tight awards-season slates. It was originally scheduled to open up last weekend, but wound up being pushed five days to the 22nd, leaving Bostonians not a lot of time to see it pre-Christmas, and I'm not sure what sort of shelf-life it has beyond that. Landmark's schedule doesn't show anything else opening in Kendall Square until 7 January, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's not some schedule reshuffling before then, maybe knocking this down to one show a day at 9:30pm.

It's a good movie, and if you think there's even the slightest chance you'll enjoy a Finnish demonic Santa movie, see it while you can. Heck, even if you don't, I imagine there will be something rather satisfying about it if Christmas leaves you feeling run-down.

Rare Exports

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 December 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

Rare Exports appears to be the third go-round that Finnish director Jalmari Helander and his brother Juuso have had with this basic idea, with the previous iterations apparently being punchline-driven shorts. This one, on the other hand, is a horror movie that puts its Christmas theme out front-and-center. And, maybe surprisingly, it's a good one, taking a potentially jokey concept and getting legitimate thrills.

It's December, and an American company is doing excavation work in the Korvatunturi mountains just on the Russian side of the Russo-Finnish border. Whatever they're doing, it's having an effect - something has decimated the local reindeer population, which the small village on the Finnish side depends upon. Pietari (Onni Tommila), a kid who sneaked into the drill site with his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), thinks he knows what's up - the Americans have found the tomb of Santa Claus, who before Coca-Cola got hold of him was a monster who punished bad children until the Sami people trapped him in the ice and buried the ice under a mountain. Ridiculous, except that any number of crazy things are happening on Christmas Eve, and Pietari's father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) has caught a gaunt, feral, old man (Peeter Jakobi) in his wolf trap. Rauno, Juuso's father Aimo (Tommi Korpela), and their friend Piiparinen (Rauno Juvonen) think they can ransom this find off for the value of the reindeer, but...

The Helanders' version of Santa Claus owes as much to the Krampus as Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, and they do a pretty fantastic job of building their mythology. Aside from amalgamating Santa and his beastly sidekick, they do a nice job of positing more sinister explanations for various other Christmas traditions, from gingerbread to strings of lights, and they do it without having to come out and say "this is why people really do this thing". It's smooth and all the more clever for it. Some bits are delightfully morbid, black comedy so dark that one might forget to laugh.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: