RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE Review

Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (complete with populist subtitle for the UK) is the perfect tonic for those who feel bludgeoned by yet another year of forced Christmas merriment. If you're sick of the gluttony, commercialism, and same rehashed routines then this may just put a festive grin on your face.

Based on a couple of the director's popular shorts, Rare Exports sees the premise extended to feature length. It's Finland in the run up to Christmas, and inquisitive young boy Pietari uncovers the frightening truth about Santa Claus. Turns out he may not be quite the jolly, rotund gift-giver that he's become in modern days. At the same time, Pietari's father discovers that all his reindeer have been slaughtered , effectively bankrupting his small community. Who to blame? Why, of course, it's the American scientists digging a 500 metre hole in the Korvatunturi Mountains. Upon further investigation, it turns out there's a disturbing yuletide secret lurking beneath the ground...

 Harking back to the darker kids flicks of the 80s - Gremlins and The Goonies come to mind - Rare Exports has a wicked fairy-tale atmosphere. Helander takes his time setting things up and builds suspense effectively as folklore becomes twisted reality and Pietari's investigation intensifies. Whilst not exactly a scary movie, the premise is gleefully sinister and there's joy to be had in the initial reveal of what's been unearthed. Things aren't quite as they seem, and some strange developments involving stolen hairdryers and blow heaters complicate matters further. However, once 'Santa' is discovered, the pace quickens and it all comes to a very swift close. At that point it really feels like an extended short - always entertaining, but also a tad rushed and not providing quite the satisfying finale that you'd have hoped for. Undoubtedly budget restrictions will have had an impact but still there's a niggling feeling of under-delivery.

Played straight, it's an amusing and witty take on traditional Christmas tales with a creeping sense of off-kilter menace from the outset, where one of the scientists is pestered like a child; "have you washed behind your ears?!" Indeed the interplay between adults and children is one of the most attractive aspects of the film. It lays out the time-honoured tradition of parents withholding information from their kids, only for the kids to prove themselves more than a match for the oldies when it comes to dealing with their foe. It's a shame then that in the UK Rare Exports is rated 15 by the BBFC for containing "frequent moderate threat". Now, I'm no longer a 12 year old kid, but if memory serves me correctly, that's exactly what I was after at that age. Without getting into a debate about classification, it seems that Helander's film will be beyond reach for many older kids who'd relish it. Of course it's an arty, subtitled and dark fairy-tale that has huge adult appeal too, but it's hardly a psycho-Santa-on-the-rampage movie either.

At 82 minutes, it's one of the few films I wished was longer, which is no bad thing. Pacing quibbles aside it's an imaginative and unique Christmas flick, the likes of which I wish we saw more often.

Maybe I'll add that to my Christmas list for Santa...

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is out at UK cinemas from 3rd December 2010 .
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