Looking for something off the beaten path this Christmas season? The Finnish oddity "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" might just be the cure for your holiday blues. Part fantasy, part horror, part black humor--this delightful film manages to adhere to traditional Christmas movie conventions while upending them at the same time. It's an unusually deft balance that makes this both hard edged and heartfelt. While not a perfect movie--once the main action begins, things fall rather too conveniently into place--it is distinguished by its brilliantly bold concept. And despite minor reservations, I have to award "Rare Exports" my respect for its unorthodox story line and wickedly acerbic sense of humor. Destined for cult movie status, I have no doubt that this film will perplex some viewers. But for adventurous movie lovers, I can't think of a better antidote to typical holiday fare.
Set in north Finland, the reindeer population is found dead by local herders . Maybe it has something to do with an American work crew excavating a nearby mountain. There is a disturbing legend about Santa in these parts. It seems that the jolly old fellow wasn't so jovial, but instead was quite evil. He was killed and buried in these hills according to lore and it seems that the Americans might be looking for the genuine Santa Claus. As with any good Christmas story, the protagonist is a spirited boy with a hard scrabble life. Spying on the dig, he can't believe what is discovered. But when strange and scary happenings start to consume the town, will he be able to make anyone understand the evil that has been unleashed? It's such a terrific premise, done with slow burn precision. As opposed to an all out assault on your senses, this sly film methodically ratchets up the creepiness and the macabre humor.
This is a bizarre and highly original winner. The plot twists and turns and the climax is refreshingly satisfying. The wintry locales, the propulsive soundtrack, and the good effects add weight to the narrative. But perhaps the film's greatest asset is in its lead performance. So self assured and polished, it's easy to envision this alternate world through his eyes. His relationship with his father is sweet and realistic despite the surreal feel of the picture. I loved this movie, truly, and have no doubt that it will continue to captivate more adventurous audiences as word spreads through the DVD release. For those looking for family entertainment, I would not recommend this to small children (hopefully that is already clear). But for anyone looking for a new holiday viewing tradition, check this out. This will join A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life as our yearly favorites. It's not perfect--but its sheer inventiveness makes up for any shortcomings. KGHarris, 8/11.