The Best Holiday Horror of All Time
One strong story from start to Finnish…
I had put off RARE EXPORTS long enough. After all, Christmas horrors are usually nothing but slashtastic misadventures, and I wasn’t in the mood for another run of the mill tale about a wingnut in a Santa suit wielding an ax instead of a candy cane. Well, this film from writer/director Jalmari Helander (with some writing help from Petri Jokiranta and Sami Parkkinean – as well as his brother, Juuso who had worked on the idea), is one of the most intriguing foundations for a movie to come along in quite some time.
No, RARE EXPORTS is not a gorefest, but the suspense is palpable when a mining company working on the Russo-Finnish border locates what might be Father Christmas and decides to blast him out of the mountain. This turns out to be the equivalent of a Japanese team setting Godzilla loose. Pre-tween Pietari Kontio (played remarkably well by Onni Tommila) senses danger, and in his remote village where life is rough, he wants to get a better idea of what new thing might be coming.
The only problem is Pietari is a squirt, and a squeamish one at that. This doesn’t mean he’s your cliché ridden wimpy kid, he hasn’t earned his stripes to be considered one of the growing lads who should be paid much attention. In the meantime, he shuts his eyes when his dad (Rauno Kontio) slaughters a pig. It’s clear his father loves him, but there’s much to do, and with his wife since dead, that workload’s compounded by trying to raise a son who seemingly isn’t hellbent on becoming Paul Bunyan Jr. Although Pietari listens to everyone bigger or older from the village, he won’t cower or cry. After all, those miners are getting ready to unleash hell, so Pietari does what any kid with a brain does – he researches. Sure, the village is out in the desolate north, nipping along the edges of the Arctic Circle, but he’s got books, dammit, and he’s going to investigate. Because that beast bound up in the soil might just be hungry for children…
Helander amps the suspense at every turn, and the story moves along at a steady pace to keep you enthralled. Of course, since RARE EXPORTS has the distinction of being the most intriguing and unique of holiday horrors, it’s hard to look away. But it’s not just about the story or the great characters that inhabit the film.
Mika Orasmaa’s cinematography truly captures a frontier village in isolation, as well as the hardship of living life in perpetual cold. The colors, however, are not muted, but the tone definitely establishes one of daily drudgery due to monochromatic earth tones. Oddly enough, the director handled the production design, and the end result is a masterful one. Due to the environment, the village is as sparse as it is pragmatic, where everything feels half-done. After all, how can one complete anything, like a lovely home and yard, when there is serious work to do? Aesthetics be damned: the weather’s bad, and the basics of food, clothing, shelter – in their own basic elements – must come first. To add to the flavor, Juri and Miska Seppä provide the music that enhances the tale without getting in the way.
In this coming of age tale for Pietari, we’re left wondering what we’d do if we had to face adversity on a grand scale, especially one of the extraordinary kind. Could we pass the test? Whether he makes it or not, Pietari’s out to prove he has what it takes to do his father proud.
I’ve definitely seen one too many holiday horrors, and I still have a few more to go. But RARE EXPORTS is a rare treat indeed for the weary, and I have no doubt it will find a place in your collection. And it’s so good, when someone asks if you have a holiday movie to watch, this is the DVD you’ll pluck off the shelf.
Other great holiday horrors: Steven C. Miller’s SILENT NIGHT (Canada/USA, 2012), and Lewis Jackson’s CHRISTMAS EVIL (aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT) from 1980.
4 out of 5 stars
(Photo from Imp Awards.)