Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
A Finnish telling of a dark Santa tale
You know a child is going to have a skewed concept of Christmas when his father works processing reindeer carcasses in a commercial butchery setup out in the garage. But that’s only the beginning of the yuletide weirdness in Finnish filmmaker Jalmari Helander’s dark-comic expansion on his cult Internet shorts, in which he crafts a back story for Santa that’s as black as stocking coal.
Onni Tommila plays Pietari, a young, sad-faced boy living with widower father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) in the bleak Arctic outpost of Korvatunturi, popularly known to the Finns as the home of Father Christmas. When Pietari sneaks a peek at a mysterious industrial drilling effort underway on a nearby mountaintop, he overhears some astonishing news: The crew apparently has discovered the burial mound of the real Santa Claus. Pietari gets busy reading up on Santa lore, and is freaked to find evidence that the jolly old soul was actually a demonic entity entombed in the mountain centuries earlier by terrorized local villagers. Santa kept an eye on kids, all right, but not (ewww) for the reasons we think.
When a herd of hundreds of reindeer turn up nightmarishly slaughtered, Rauno and his fellow infuriated hunters (Tommi Korpela and Rauno Juvonen) curse the drilling team, who they believe have carelessly allowed wolves through a security fence. Pietari knows better. He armors up in hockey gear and baits the chimney with a bear trap. After the men go to a spiked wolf pit and drag out a bearded, feral old-timer — impossibly, still alive — they start to sense the truth in Pietari’s blurted-out story about the return of this bad, bad Santa.
Up to this point, the movie feels like it’s striving to echo the kiddie-goth broodiness of Swedish vampire entry “Let the Right One In.’’ Onni Tommila and young castmate Ilmari Järvenpää, as his naughty-list friend, aren’t directed very subtly, but there’s a similarly uncomfortable lonesomeness to Pietari’s world.
The tone turns broad, though, following a jarringly clever twist that launches the final act. The hunters still have the old man in their possession, eyeing a compensatory payoff from the drilling company, but, somehow, the local children have all gone missing — and so have radiators, hairdryers, and stoves. What does it all mean? The nonspoiler answer is that it’s up to Pietari to save the day in a climactic sequence that brings to mind “Home Alone’’-era Macaulay Culkin recast as “Die Hard’’-era Bruce Willis. Too crazy? Good luck telling that to the filmmakers inviting you to spend the holidays with the anti-Claus.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.