From Silent Night, Deadly Night, through Sint and Santa’s Slay, it would be easy to think that the final word had been written on the “bad Santa” film. Thanks to the good filmmakers of Finland, who are closer to Santa’s home than the rest of us after all, we are simultaneously thrilled and terrified to discover that Santa is not the jolly fat man we have been led to believe in for centuries. While the modern versions of Santa Claus go back to at least the early 19th century, with the famous poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas”, or as it is better known today, ”The Night Before Christmas”, it turns out that Santa is far more ancient and sinister than that.
A scientist is excavating what he calls the largest burial mound in the Korvatunturi mountains near the remote areas of rural Finland. A group of reindeer herders become disturbed by the excavations at Christmas, especially when the majority of their reindeer turn up dead. Told largely from the perspective of one of the children of the herders, who works out that the mining has something to do with Santa Claus, the herders soon find themselves in possession of a seemingly undead old man that they believe to be Santa Claus. When they try and sell him back to the mining team, the fun really begins.
Take a dash of Santa Claus: The Movie and mix it in with The Thing, and you will be close to getting a grip on this original and shockingly good take on the bad Santa film. Expanding on the short film Rare Exports Inc. by Jalmari and Juuso Helander of Woodpecker Films, the feature-length Rare Exports is an atmospheric, and beautifully shot piece that makes full use of the stunning backdrop of the Korvatunturi mountains between Finland and Russia. Horror movies don’t typically have any business being this attractive to look at, but this surface sheen is indicative of the quality that lies under the surface. The fact that it is set in the unfamiliar climes of Finland also pushes the same claustrophobic and agoraphobic buttons simultaneously that John Carpenter (and later Dutch filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr) did with a similar environment.
Given that our view of Santa is fairly coloured by Anglo traditions of the jolly bearded man in the sack, the subversion of this makes for some terrific horror and some great opportunities to take the film to unexpected places. Director Helander never spoils the broth by showing us too much, and some of the climactic moments only hint at the deeper and dark evil that lurks beneath the surface. It was a dangerous choice making the young Onni Tommila the ostensible star of the film, although sticking to the original Rare Exports Inc. storyline of the hunters may have been dangerously close to Troll Hunters territory. Thankfully, Tommila is a perfect old-school combination of industrious and precocious and it was a gamble that, like all other aspects of the film, shows Rare Exports to be a daring and clever take on not only the Christmas film, but in horror and mystery storytelling for the twenty-first century.
There are no bonus features, which is a shame given that there are the two short films that this feature is based on, and the US edition contains these, some behind the scenes bits and pieces and 1964’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
The best part of the disc, however, is the transfer itself. We’ve already mentioned that the film looks beautiful, and the Blu-ray is pristine. Flawless, in fact. The detail levels are incredibly high, and it is entirely possible that on a clear day you can see forever through the stunning backdrop of the mountains. The soundtrack is similarly packed with oomph, and despite the fact that there are no big “action moments”, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is active throughout and gives every element of your surround channels a workout.
Rare Exports was released in Australia on 7 December 2011 from Icon.