Jenny: Good morning, readers! After a weekend of Christmas horror “classics,” both wonderful and wonderfully painful, Final Girl Support Group and The 13 Days of Christmas return. Before we move on to a number of 80s slashers and Busey baked goods, let’s take a look at the Finnish dark fantasy, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010).
It’s likely that Frosty and I would have turned in a somewhat shallow review along the lines of “It was funny and weird. Wow, lots of old man wangers!” and we’re happy to present a more thorough analysis of the film from our newest guest contributor, Scaredy Cat!
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Scaredy Cat: Hello, I’m Scaredy Cat and I love horror. I am also terrified of horror movies. I live with this contradiction every day, and it sadly limits my entertainment choices. The typical movie-goer may be frightened while the movie is rolling, but when it’s over the horror of the movie slides into the background of their lives, the terror of the moment forgotten.
Unfortunately, that’s not me. The horror stays with me past the theater and the car ride home, though the late night snacks and into the bedroom to three in the morning, when my mind plays nasty tricks. I lie awake listening to every creak, becoming ever more certain, as the night spins forward, that there is a psycho killer in my closet. Or a velociraptor.
How did that killer get there? Why would a velociraptor go into a closet? With the state of things in my closet, wouldn’t they have to clean it first to get in there? Would a velociraptor even be able to clean a closet? These questions, though reasonable, hold no water at three in the morning, in that still-dark, when reason slips from the mind, in the half-grip of dreams.
What I’m saying is, horror movies scare the piss out of me. I’m conflicted, because I adore gore and monsters but I never know, going into the theater, which movie is going to send me into a horror tailspin with a month of sleepless nights, or which ones will be delightful playful romps through horror-land. Fortunately Stay Frosty and Jenny Dreadful know how to be gentle. They are such experts on horror and it’s many psychological tendrils that they’ve learned how to handpick movies for my delicate condition.
Most recently, they picked the movie RARE EXPORTS, a delightful Christmas tale of myth and murder. RARE EXPORTS takes place in the Korvatunturi Mountains where a scientist is digging up Santa. Of course, this isn’t the jolly Santa from the modern era, but an ancient creature, one who has more in common with Cthulhu than old Saint Nick.
Directed by Jalmair Helander, this film is based on a 2003 short called Rare Exports Inc that received attention and acclaim online. RARE EXPORTS is a movie about death, love and family. It’s also a movie about Santa, and how old myths have been sterilized for the modern way of life. In the mountains, where these people are dependent on nature for a living, they are all the closer to the ancient closeness with nature. The loss of a herd is devastating, and the intrusion on an ancient burial ground by modern technology uncovers old, and terrible gods.
Though the films plot follows the unearthing of the mythical Santa Claus, the true star is Pietari Kontio, played by the very talented Onni Tommila. Pietari is a young boy who lives with his father in a community of reindeer herders. When Pietari sees footprints on his rooftop and the reindeer from the herd are mysteriously slaughtered, he becomes obsessed with finding more about the roots of Santa’s mythology. Pursuing his hunch with the tenacity and seriousness of a noir detective seeking the truth, Pietari reads over old texts, finding depictions of Santa as a kidnapper and torturer of children. From his research Pietari becomes the only one in the community who truly believes in Santa. There is plenty of blood in this film, but we see very little of people getting hacked up. The most terrible things happen off screen, and like a child, we are left to imagine the things the movie has shielded us from, for better or worse.
Central to this movie is Pietaris relationship with his distant father, who, in all his hunter and butcher machismo still dons a feminine apron in order to make Pietari a Christmas dinner. Over a plate of cookies we learn Pietari’s mother has died and then the distance of his father and Pietari’s loneness show themselves as the after-effects of grief, a family celebrating, and mourning the first Christmas without mom.
The movie speaks to the relationship between children and their parents. A parent might threaten outside danger to keep a child from misbehaving, but in reality, all those threats are empty ones. The truth that Pietari’s loving father demonstrates is that faced with outside danger, the parents will defend their child at all costs. By directly facing Pietari’s potential death, his father emerges from his grief, learning to love the life they still have together. In the end, the affection between father and son is so strong that it is used, to hilarious effect, to teach one-time monsters how to love.
We see no women in this movie. We once hear a woman’s voice on the phone, but that is the extent of female involvement. Though I am usually bored by movies in which there are no women, in this movie, it worked, allowing for the focus to be on the father and son relationship. Their connection to a recent death makes their understanding of the threat of death all the more real. Unlike some horror movies, where death is a flippant thing, in this movie, we see the lasting effect that a loss has on a family, forcing the father to take on a role he is clearly unprepared for, and the child to step up to defend his community in a way he mightn’t have had to if a mother was there to placate his fears. This is a masculine society, but it is not a society that pretends that the loss of a woman within it means nothing: to the contrary, the loss of a mother has had a profound effect on our two central characters. We feel her loss as an emptiness place, in a movie that shows the lonely expanse of the natural world.
Also, this movie has a killer graphic design. When we watched it, we all unanimously decided we wanted the graphic Santa on coffee mugs, t-shirts and messenger bags. Though I am not much for Christmas décor, that little Santa graphic is a charming little design and should be plastered on everything. We could use it as a reminder of the pagan roots of the Santa mythos, while being thankful of how we have reformed him today.
I would recommend this to horror fans who love a dramatic landscape and don’t mind a little bit of good old fashioned camp. Someone for whom all movies must be perfectly serious, with logical and scientific explanations for all phenomena will be annoyed by this film, while those who can sit back and enjoy a ride though silly-town will be delighted. I can safely recommend this to folks who might be on the fence about horror, and who might find more intense horror films off-putting. I am happy to report that, as of this viewing, Santa has not been in my closet. Which is good, because it’s a small closet, and I’m not sure he’d fit.