Monday, December 24, 2012

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Be Nice To That Mall Santa

You see Santa Claus everywhere this time of year.  The old guy's fixture in malls, town squares, television shows...hey, I've even played the joyful old elf.  The modern version tends to be a gentle soul but what if he wasn't always that way?  Much like many legends, what if Santa had a darker past?

Directed by Jalmari Helander, the Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale explores the older, scarier version of Santa seen in European legends.  I mean, hey, the Dutch version is a good guy, but he also beats naughty kids with a willow stick.  He also arrives by a steamboat from Spain, so you can also see Santa's a little different wherever you go.  I saved watching this film until this time of year, but hoped it wouldn't be too dark or mean-spirited; I just haven't been in that kind of mood lately.  What I got was a beautifully-filmed, fun little movie with a smart protagonist and an interesting twist on the Kris Kringle mythos.

An American-funded excavation on a lonely mountain near a small Finnish village uncovers something strange:  a layer of sawdust surrounding a larger area buried deep within the hill.  It's not a natural mountain after all, they figure.  It's a burial mound.  Young Pietari and his older friend Jusso overhear the conversation, and it shakes Pietari.  He researches the Santa Claus myth to discover a belief in a monstrous creature that punishes naughty children in pretty un-holiday-ish ways.  This is what he thinks is there, but no one believes him.  When the highly-anticipated reindeer harvest - the main way the town earns its revenue - yields only a handful of animals, an investigation quickly turns up over 400 slaughtered and eaten reindeer.  Pietari's dad, Rauno, joins the others in believing it was a pack of wolves being forced onto their land by the mountain excavation - which has recently gone oddly silent.  Pietatri knows what's up.  The kid's pretty smart and he recalls a local legend of "Santa" being captured and buried by a local tribe ages ago.

Shortly, Rauno captures a strange, naked old man in one of his traps and, thinking him dead, prepares to get rid of the body.  Oddly, the old man is still alive and soon recovers from his wounds.  Pietari sees him and proclaims that this is the Santa Claus that's been buried in the mountain.  But things are, shall we say, less than festive.  Kids have disappeared from the village, as well as heating elements like ranges and hair dryers.  The old man bites off a villager's ear and is in the possession of items from the now-abandoned excavation, including a radio.  Hoping to swap "Santa" for the money lost from the slaughtered reindeer, Rauno concocts a plan that just might work...except the exchange reveals that not everything is as it seems, and that's when the snow hits the fan.

Nope, not going to tell you how it ends.  Things get even weirder, and young Pietari demonstrates why he's the smartest, bravest kid in the room.  It's a bizarre tale, to be sure, but it's actually short on scares.  That's not a bad thing - it's meant to be more of a Christmas-time adventure, really.  The countryside of Finland is a character unto itself, gorgeous mountains and snow-blanketed land are featured pretty prominently.  The characters are fairly basic, but again, not a bad thing.  The true focus of the movie is idealistic and smart Pietari.  We see most of everything through his eyes, including his strained relationship with his father and his belief in the old legends.  He believes he's naughty because of clipping a hole in a fence (that he thinks let in wolves) but he's truly the top of the nice list.

So if you want something a little more bizarre, yet not totally nihilistic, for your holiday horror viewing, you might have fun with this truly twisted Christmas tale that will make you think twice about making fun of that Santa you see in the mall.

Until next time, everyone, have a wonderful holiday and be sure to treat each other well!

Now watch the hilarious, tongue-firmly-in-cheek trailer!

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