I usually write about peace, love, and understanding. This post is not one of those. It’s devoid of deeper meaning unless an ancient angry Santa sounds refreshing right about now.
Tired of Christmas movies drenched with syrupy cliches? Need something with a sharper edge to watch with teens or friends or the house guests who stay up till all hours? The film I recommend contains no overly sweet sentiment, although there are characters wearing sweaters without a trace of irony. It’s an unexpectedly entertaining horror movie made in Finland.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is supposedly based on old Norse legends. We know our familiar fairy tales are cleaned-up versions of older, far more gruesome stories. Today’s Santa story is heavily sanitized as well.
This 2010 subtitled movie takes place in a rural, hardscrabble area of northern Finland where ten-year-old Pietari lives with his widowed father. Pietari and a friend spy on a secretive mining operation near the Russian border, trying to figure out why the workers are blasting apart a hill. It’s rumored the place is where the original Santa Claus is buried. When the child is told that Santa doesn’t exist, Pietari looks into the legends. He finds that the old stories portray Santa as an angry being who wreaks vengeance, even tossing naughty children in a boiling cauldron.
Pietari’s father, who makes a living hunting and butchering reindeer, discovers that a large herd has already been massacred. Other frightening things begin happening in the area as well. Pietari begs adults to consider that an evil Santa is responsible, but no one takes him seriously. — not even when the town’s children start to disappear. It’s only when a dangerous old man appears that they swing into action. It may be too late.
For viewers old enough to enjoy lots of Santa-related mayhem, this movie is the perfect antidote to crassly commercial holiday fare. It’s stark, unusual, and quietly menacing. Pay close attention and you’ll notice homage is given to all sorts of American films. But I’m pretty sure the herd of naked old guys is a cinematic first.
First published in Wired.com