I am not a huge fan of movies with subtitles. It’s the process of reading along as I watch that I dread, but if you tell me I can see a Christmas movie about an evil Santa unearthed during an archaeological dig in Finland, well then, I will endure just about anything to see it. Rare Exports is about exactly that, and from the very first frame, the film lives up to the potential inherent in this bizarre premise.
Capturing the cinematic feel of holiday films like Prancer or, say, The Night They Saved Christmas starring Jaclyn Smith, Rare Exports takes place against a backdrop of clear skies and miles and miles of pristine, unforgiving snow. Though beautiful, the blanket of white and cold makes everyday life seem isolated and difficult. The promise of Christmas is a welcome glimmer of hope in this hostile environment, and somehow it’s reassuring to see a child flourishing when the rest of their world is dormant and frozen. This strange, vaguely unsettling juxtaposition of the harsh winter and the magic of childhood sets the perfect stage for what unfolds in Rare Exports.
After sneaking into the restricted area of an archaeological dig, two boys discover that a burial mound is about to be excavated. “Santa’s buried in there,” remarks one, to which the other replies, “Santa is dead?” in utter surprise. It’s an odd exchange to be sure, but further research reveals the dark history of Santa Claus. Early drawings and folklore portray him as something more akin to an evil spirit, prowling around homes and leaving clawed footprints in the snow. Alarmed, the boys await the unearthing of something ominous: Santa himself.
Fabulously, this peculiar and creepy off-the-cuff remark about Santa being buried in the mound turns out to be true. The scraggly, stone-faced old man they unearth is nothing like the jolly old elf we have all come to know and love. He looks scary. And mean. And it can’t be a coincidence that some of the children who figured out the truth about St. Nick have gone missing. This is nothing short of a full-on Christmas nightmare. It’s unsettling, it’s suspenseful, it’s shocking, and somehow it’s also just crazy awesome and kind of hilarious.
As the film moves toward its excellent conclusion, increasingly bizarre events continue to unfold. Even so, the weirdness is offset by the child’s eye view of the main character. Not since The Reflecting Skin has a movie so successfully juxtaposed the innocence of childhood and a series of surreal horrifying events. The end result is something very close to perfection.
DVD + BLU-RAY NOTES
Extra features include the two original short films “Rare Exports Inc.” (2003) and “Rare Exports – The Official Safety Instructions” (2005), The Making of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, featurettes on concept art and effects, a photo gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.