“I’m too busy to answer stupid questions,” intimidating reindeer herder Aimo (Tommi Korpela) tells his young son, Pietari (Onni Tommila). The denizens of Finland’s Korvatunturi mountains are as forbidding as the landscape in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a grim, almost-black comedy that digs up some monsters even scarier than indifferent parents.
A top-secret American excavation seems to be the cause of the mysterious slaughter of the area’s reindeer. The vengeful Finnish working-class types storm the dig, returning with a naked geezer preserved in ice. Pietari suspects he’s the real Santa Claus—the original, brutish version of Scandinavian folklore, who rewarded the naughty with fatal spanks rather than lumps of coal. The adults think he’s merely ransom, to be sold back at a hefty price. Either way, their catch wakes up in a nasty mood, biting off ears and glaring.
Promising (but never delivering) a Silent Night, Deadly Night with subtitles and competent technical chops, Rare Exports keeps its thrills at bay until the climax, which offers a twist audiences won’t see coming—and kudos to that. But this chilly fantasy plays better on paper than in execution. Director Jalmari Helander has spent his career making comic shorts in the Rare Exports series, including some plays on near-identical themes, but he has trouble sustaining an attractive tone over a mere pre-credits 73 minutes.
Much of this portentous trifle feels padded out and overly serious when it should be demented and absurd; the first hour is far too much buildup to an only moderately funny punch line. It’s more interesting as an examination of the way a child’s fertile imagination gives way to desperate cynicism on the descent into deep adulthood—a condition exacerbated severalfold in bleakest, remotest Finland.
Rare Exports builds to a coda funnier than anything that preceded it—but, honestly, any movie with an army of naked geriatrics running through the snow after our heroes ought to be more fun.