In a pair of beautifully shot, masterfully told short films in 2003 and 2005, writer- director Jalmari Helander presented the world of the Father Christmas trade, a vaguely defined “rare export” business specializing in a certain toy-delivering livestock. Deep in the Finnish mountainside of Lapland – believed for generations to be the true home of the legendary woodland man – a trio of elite hunters seek out and capture free-roaming Santas, retrain them to love, not eat children and ship them out to unseen buyers (presumably department stores). They were calmed by gingerbread cookies but enraged to the point of murder by cursing and hard drinking. And due to improper treatment on the part of the buyers, they were becoming extinct.
Now, with the feature-length Rare Exports, Helander expands and alters the concept of those short films into a tale of a great archeological excavation gone horribly wrong. This time, the people of Lapland are hard-bitten, tough-as-nails hunters of reindeer who make their living by selling the meat. Atop a nearby mountain, scientists use explosives to unearth what they believe is the genuine Santa Claus. (The Father Christmas-as-game plotline is gone now.)
When they eventually uncover the massive find, strange and deadly things start happening down below. A season’s worth of reindeer are slaughtered overnight, children go missing and a strange, feral old man is found in an animal trap. One boy, Pieteri (the doe-faced Onni Tommila, seen also in the second Rare Exports short), has done his research and knows what nobody else does: that Sinterklaas, according to many old myths, is far from a jolly old elf.
What plays out is a half-baked, but at times utterly enthralling, dark fairy tale that eventually abandons its hushed tones and sweeping scope in favor of a grandly silly climax out of left field. What starts as a haunting supernatural mood piece, a la Let the Right One In, devolves into a series of reveals and tidy arch cleanups that become more campy and outrageous with each new twist. It’s a shame, too; Santa could’ve had a brand new bag.
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