Man. Santa Claus. If there’s one thing more played out than zombies, it’s Santa Claus, am I right? Seems like every Christmas, another glut of saccharine, kid-friendly movies come out to “celebrate the season” with the same old lessons in rediscovering childhood magic and believing in jolly fat men, ironically decrying the commercialism of the modern Holiday while happily taking your ticket money (and of course, already raking in the money for ubiquitous product placement). The very concept of it makes me twitch. How could you possibly have a fresh take on that?
Well, first, I guess you’ve got to get out of Hollywood, or at least get away from all the genre straitjackets Hollywood likes to lay down. Maybe it helps to be out of the United States entirely and approach it from a different cultural perspective. I’ve already sung the praises of Troll Hunter for making me appreciate the “mockumentary” format again, and now from Norway’s neighbor Finland comes a crazy spin on the story of the kid who believes in Santa despite the modern skepticism all around him: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale .
What’s the spin? This particular kid believes in the Santa of Old, before the propaganda of the modern age that turned him into a whitewashed, smiling deliverer of gifts. No, as the montage of old books in the opening credits shows us, to this young boy Santa exists as a demonic spirit sent to punish and torture the naughty; and he fears a nearby American excavation at Korvatunturi is about to set him free. All this is rooted solidly in Finnish folklore, including that their version of Santa is said to make his home at Korvatunturi, and is known as Joulupukki, a word that translates to “Yule Goat”. These days Joulupukki is more or less equivalent to Santa As We Know Him, but once upon a time…
Pagans used to have festivities to ward off evil spirits. In Finland these spirits of darkness wore goat skins and horns. In the beginning this creature didn’t give presents but demanded them. The Yule Goat was an ugly creature and frightened children.
With that ominously established, it’s no accident in my mind that some of the scenes around the expedition resemble the establishing shots of The Thing. Santa has been buried in the ice for centuries, but is about to be Woken Up.
I won’t spoil overly what happens next, but suffice it to say you may be surprised even if you’re approaching it now from the perspective of a horror film. Rare Exports has some great ideas in it, including some that warm the cockles of my Zombie Ranch heart; for example, once the rural reindeer herder heroes finally accept the boy’s insistence that Santa is real, one of their earliest thoughts beyond the immediate wonder and horror of that is, “How can we make money off of this?” I won’t say anything about the final ending, but if you watch you’ll understand why I loved it, and how it instantly crystallizes the title into making perfect sense. Like the denoument of Shaun of the Dead, it’s so wrong, and yet so right.
Like Troll Hunter before it, Rare Exports is available on Netflix Instant, and is just as deserving of a look if you appreciate a fresh, quirky take on what at first glance might seem to be a tired premise. Believe in Santa. Or else.