Oscilloscope // 2010 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 11th, 2011
The real story behind jolly old St. Nick...and it ain't pretty.
In my best 'Monty the Used Car Salesman' voice:
"Hey folks! Are you tired of the same creaky old holiday movies? Sick of seeing old geezers find the true meaning of Christmas? Nerdy kids in punk bunny outfits vying for a Red Ryder BB gun? Angels getting their wings? Then have I got a deal for you! Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale features slaughtered reindeer! Giant horned monster encased in ice! Helicopter chases through snowstorms! This deal won't last long! Act now and we'll throw in a scene of dozens of naked, wang-waving Santas! All this can be yours from Oscilloscope Entertainment for the low, LOW price of $19.99 (plus shipping and handling)!"
Forget everything you know about Santa Claus. The legend of the jolly fan man is about to be turned on its ear with Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. In the Koryatunturi mountains of Russia, a drilling operation is about to expose a devastating secret: the real Santa Claus is buried inside the ice and rock of the area's majestic landscape. Two local reindeer hearders, Rauno (Jorma Tommila) and Aimo (Tommi Korpela), and their young sons Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää), find themselves caught up in a whirlwind adventure when Rauno finds an old man caught inside a pitted wolf trap in his yard. The seemingly dead old man awakens and becomes a malevolent force that leads the two fathers and sons to a secret so big it might just destroy Christmas forever!
Please note: I'll be talking about specifics in the movie, so if you want to go in without any prior knowledge, stop reading right now!
I went into Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale thinking it was one kind of film and came out realizing it was something else entirely. Rarely have I watched a movie, mulled it over for several days and still couldn't figure out if I liked it or not. I'm seriously trying to wrap my brain around this movie. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a weird hybrid of horror, comedy, drama, action and...well, Christmas. Those are not elements you find intermingling together very often. In fact, I'd go so far as to say you've never seen those genres hanging out in the same movie, at least not in a movie as weird as Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
The good news is that what I liked about Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale far outweighs what I thought didn't work. The tone of the movie is dead serious, something you don't usually find in a movie about Christmas (most of which are light and frothy comedies). While there are some seasonal trappings in the film -- Christmas lights, adorable reindeer, that trusty old red and white Santa uniform -- the movie has all the warmth of a lukewarm cup of cocoa. It takes the idea of a malevolent Santa very seriously. Conversely, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale isn't a run-of-the-mill slasher flick like Silent Night, Deadly Night or Black Christmas. Although the mood of the film is often dark and moody, the movie isn't just one long nightmare. There are moments of pathos between the characters and as a viewer I had a vested interest as to where the story was going.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale starts to really go off the rails when a bunch of crazy, homicidal naked Santa Clauses (Clausi?) show up with their, err, "candy canes" happily waving in the wind. Then said naked Santas chase down a helicopter carrying a net full of kidnapped children encased in a burlap sack. Okay, now go back and read that again...did you ever think you'd read the words "naked," "homicidal," "Santas," "helicopter" and "burlap sack" in the same sentence? That should give you a good idea of how crazy this movie is.
Here's what I'm realizing as I'm writing this review: I cannot properly convey what Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is like. It's that odd of a movie. There are elements of so many genres here that it's almost impossible to put my thumb on how to explain what's in store for the viewer. I think I liked it and yet...I'm still not sure. There were moments when I wished it would have picked a specific direction and gone balls-to-the-wall. It's not that it feels watered down, just like it's pulling in many different directions without a clear cut tone. The actors all play their roles with heavy stoicism; never at any point is there a wink (even from the child actors) that the story they're trolling in is just a whole lot of nonsense (technically, it is).
When it's all said and done I really admired the filmmaker's brazen attempt at doing something new with a Christmas movie. Writer/director Jalmari Helander has crafted a movie that tries to be unique and mostly succeeds; seriously, I dare you to watch Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and tell me it's the same old, same old holiday fare you've been watching for years. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale may not be to everyone's tastes (grandma may want to stick to It's a Wonderful Life), but those looking for a different kind of holiday movie may find their stockings stuffed to the brim with happiness.
Oscilliscope Pictures has done a fantastic job on Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale's transfer. The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition and looks stunning. The cinematography is beautifully rendered and many of the locations -- from snowy peaks to dark nights -- are all rendered with crystal clear clarity. Fans of this film will be thrilled to see this holiday flick has been given the kind of treatment saved only for those who have been especially 'nice' this year.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in Finnish. The bulk of the film has subtitles, although interestingly there are many scenes where characters speak large chunks of English dialogue. The sound mix is excellent and features some wonderful surround sound moments (a helicopter sequence at the end of the film is especially bombastic). Overall this is an excellent, immersive soundtrack. Also included on this disc are English subtitles as well as a LCPM mix in Finnish.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale includes a hearty amount of extra features. The original two Rare Exports Inc. short films are included (both in standard definition) and give viewers an idea where this film came from. "The Making of Rare Exports" is a half hour featurette that takes a look at what it took to bring this Santa tale to the screen. A few featurettes on the computer effects and animatics ("Blood in the Snow," "Animatics and Computer Effects Comparison") give viewers an idea of how the filmmakers brought the effects work to life. Finally there is a photo gallery with about three dozen photos, a trailer for the film (as well as other Oscilloscope releases) and -- my personal favorite bonus feature -- the full length version of the 1964 Pia Zadora clunker Santa Claus Conquers the Martians in standard definition.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a truly original moviegoing experience. I shrug my shoulders at this point in the review -- seeing it is the only way to understand my mixed emotions about it. While I don't think it's even close to being a perfect movie, I do think seeing Rare Exports is well worth your time.
"It doesn't matter if you've been naughty or nice -- Rare Exports: A
Christmas Tale makes a decent stocking stuffer for fans of horror, comedy,
and naked Santas."
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Finnish)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (Finnish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Bonus Film
* Short Films
* Photo Gallery
* DVD Copy
* Official Site