Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Uncle Kitty vs Santa Claus
Today I will be reviewingRare Exports: A Christmas Tale.
You may wonder why I am reviewing a film about the Finnish version of Santa Claus on a forum usually reserved for darker subject material. Allow me to explain some background on the film and the legend it is based on (this will necessitate spoilers so quit reading here if you wish to avoid them).
One of the oldest Christmas traditions in Europe is the Yule Goat, or the Joulupukki as it's referred to in Finland. Originally a fairly dark figure that punished children it eventually merged with a more modern version of the Santa Claus myth. Except that Santa lives in the mountains at Korvatuntur1. Rare Exports plays off this, and is a prequel to the two short films it is based upon (both of which can easily be found on Google, and are amusing enough to be worth the look).
The film begins with an American mining company drilling on Korvatunturi in what is claimed to be an 'archaeological' dig, but which is obviously not, and the American liaison knows it. Moreover it's quite obvious he's looking for something, and knows what it is, and what rules need to be obeyed in it's presence to maintain safety. Nearby is an unsuspecting town of reindeer ranchers looking forward to their yearly culling. When the drill hits meters thick sawdust we are told through exposition that burying things in sawdust is an ancient way of keeping things cold. Simultaneously a local ranchers son, who is terrified the miners will awaken Santa reads up on old legends in books featuring a hairy goat horned man taller than the trees who eats children. Legend has it the tribes confronted it centuries ago on the ice but were unable to kill it, so when it's weight caused the ice to break they froze it and buried it in the mountain. Not long after the miners go missing, the reindeer herds are slaughtered, and children start to go missing, and of course no one believes the kid. The lone child who knows more than everyone else is an overused cliche in suspense films, but this time they don't seem to be to offensive with it (perhaps because the adults catch on pretty quickly).
Assuming wolves are responsible for the reindeer, the boys father sets spiked pit traps, and catches a frail old naked man covered in dirt. Marketing would have you believe this is the evil serial killer santa that is the focus of the film, but this is untrue. He's an elf, or a Father Christmas as they're referred to in the film. Father Christmases are apparently as strong as bears, can run for miles, and are primitive enough to have not seen a need for clothes (but adapt to tool and weapon use quickly enough). Temperatures don't bother them, they have an addiction to warm gingerbread, and they become homicidal when you violate certain rules in their presence and act 'naughty'. At which point you may have to put them down because once they develop a taste for human flesh after biting you in anger they wont eat anything else.
In a bizarre attempt at trying to get the town reimbursed for the loss of it's herds, the boy's father attempts to bribe the Americans only to learn they've unearthed a gigantic horned Santa, who has assumed mental control of the elves and commanded them to thaw him out of his prison and kidnap all the local kids for a snack. So on the one hand you have a traditional dark fairy tale involving Christmas and small kids, and on the other you have an ancient entity imprisoned in an isolated place because it couldn't be killed, that even in it's sleep has mental control over a servitor race of which it may be the progenitor (there appear to be no female elves). Sounds like familiar territory, especially with the inclusion of the 'goat' moniker.
The film may be better suited for Mythos fans than traditional horror fans. It was marketed as a film starring a demonic serial killer Santa Claus, somewhere between a horror movie and possibly an action film. It's neither. It's more of a comedy. Keeping in mind that Finn humor tends to be very dry and somewhat dark, it easily escapes the attention of most Western audiences who are used to less subtlety. The end scene where the town figures out what to do with the 'new' race of potentially homicidal anthropoids in their vicinity, and simultaneously find a way to save themselves financially inspires the films title, and is good for a chuckle. It would be like solving the Innsmouth problem by marketing the Deep Ones as pool boys. Traditional American horror fans will be disappointed as there is very little gore, and while nudity is common enough it's grumpy old man-elf nudity. Which is to say, not pretty. There are no women in this film (and I keep feeling there's a reason why, but I've somehow missed the joke).
Overall it's pretty good. The cgi isn't always as polished as it could be, and it focuses on story so it will feel slow moving to the impatient, but there's nothing else I've watched quite like it.
Also if you get the blu ray dvd, there's a hidden easter egg recipe for nummy ginger bread cookies. Make sure to look for it.