“How do you like the land of the Northern Lights? “
Somehow, in the past 20 years or so a number of European holiday figures with pagan roots have stealthily infiltrated the season on this side of the pond. Krampus is probably the most successful of these, with Krampusnacht (December 5th) parades, talk show appearances and several movies dedicated to the horned, devilish Santa-sidekick with a much darker past. (Half-demon according to some – Santa really needs to step up the background checks.)
Rare Exports features yet another elder-thing version of Santa, Joulupukki – the Yule Goat. A remnant of much earlier mid-winter celebrations in which people would dress up as goat men and go house to house, demanding food and gifts and beating the tar out of bad kids. At some point this older, darker version got blended with the more modern Santa myths and Joulupukki these days travels house to house giving gifts instead of demanding them. Still only to good kids, though.
I’ve known about Rare Exports since its release, but I’ve always passed it over, even with hearty recommendations from folks like my brother Scott. I think it was the poster, which reminded me of 80’s era kids adventure movies, like Explorers or Batteries Not Included. Not something I was looking for in a horror movie. Make no mistake, though – while it does have some of that framework and feel, Rare Exports is a darker vintage of film, with plenty of horror imagery in between the black comedy and coming of age shenanigans.
I watched Rare Exports on Vudu (with commercials). It’s also available for subs on Prime and Hulu as well as for rent and purchase in most of the usual places. It’s visually interesting enough to be worth the HD upgrade, and the Blu-ray release contains a ton of extras as well.
Rare Exports starts with an excavation and two kids being naughty. Two Finnish boys, Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), watch from hiding as a British archeological team begins digging on top of Korvatuntiri, a mountain that appears to be an ancient burial ground, but of what?
The two boys are sons of reindeer herders and live a hardscrabble life with their families (which seem entirely composed of single men and their children). Pietari, the younger of the two – he still carries a hand-mad teddy bear with him – opines that the British group has found the burial place of Santa. Juuso, all hardened cynism at 11 or 12, tells his younger friend not to be stupid, and they head home as explosions rock the mountain top.
Pietari may be young and naive, but he’s not stupid. A night spent reading about the true history of Santa Claus (in books filled with appropriately disturbing illustrations) leaves him terrified of a visit from Joulupukki . A line of footsteps in the snow leading up to his second floor bedroom does nothing to alleviate this concern.
Unfortunately his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila) has no time for Pietari’s worries. It’s time for the annual running of the herd, when the reindeer will be corralled, slaughtered and the meat sold at market. And with wolf attacks on the increase lately he’s even had to set a pit trap on their property, complete with bloody pigs head as bait. Rauno’s worst fears come true when he and his friends, Piiparenen (Rauno Juvonen) and Juuso’s father Aimo (Tommi Korpela) find the reindeer herd completely decimated, nearly all of the animals torn to shreds.
Convinced that the excavation on the mountain has sent Russian wolves into their territory, the men and boys ride up to the excavation looking for a confrontation and compensation. Arriving after dark they find the dig deserted – and a massive hole dug into the rock of the mountain. Nobody seems to know what’s going on, except Pietari who is pretty damn sure he knows what’s been removed from those depths. He can’t get anyone to listen to him, though – and everyone needs to get home. Tomorrow is Christmas after all.
Christmas arrives, but with it a number of strange incidents. Many of the homes in town have been burglarized – mostly heating units and stoves stolen, but also, strangely, all of the potato sacks and a hairdryer. Almost all the children are missing, replaced with strange straw figures.
There’s also the weird, naked, bearded old guy who has fallen into Rauno’s pit trap.
The movie really begins to crank up with this turn of events, and things are interesting and strange enough that I don’t want to spoil any plot elements if you haven’t seen it. Let’s just say that even when you think you’ve got a handle on the plot, as strange as it is, it’ll have at least one more twist or two to give you.
The film is full of strange and beautiful images, heartfelt performances, a good chunk of bloody grue and it manages to be funny and scary and entertaining in equal measure. The stoic nature of the relationships – particularly between Pietari and his father – still leave room for some character development and pathos. A late dinner of gingerbread is a great piece of minimalist acting, with the Tommilas (father and son in real life) managing to convey deep emotion while saying very little.
The Bottom Line
Pietari will have his moment, and we’ll see explosions, helicopter chases, and a swarm of naked, old men running through the nighttime mountainside before Rare Exports is over. The film teeters on being over the top at times, but is grounded in the performances and sheer entertainment value, making this a holiday horror film I’ll be adding to the queue from now on.
The film is based on a couple of short films of the same name, freely available on YouTube. They’re well worth a watch after the fact, serving as ‘corporate propoganda” videos. You’ll see what I mean once you’ve watched them.