Movie Discussion: Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

  • Monthly Theme: Families in Perilrare_exports_official_poster_en
  • The Film: Rare Exports: A Christmas Story
  • Country of origin: Finland
  • Date of Finnish release: December 3, 2010
  • Date of U.S. release: December 3, 2010
  • Studio: Cinet, et al.
  • Distributer: Oscilloscope
  • Domestic Gross: $236,000
  • Budget: ?
  • Directors: Jalmari Helander
  • Producers: Agnés B., et al.
  • Screenwriters: Jalmari Helander
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematography: Mika Orasmaa
  • Make-Up/FX: Jakke Huovinen, et al.
  • Music: Juri Seppä & Miska Seppä
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: Best Film at the 2011 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film. 6 awards at the 2011 Jussi Awards. Variety Piazza Grande Award at the 2010 Locarno International Film Festival. 4 awards at the 2010 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “This holiday season, the real Santa Claus is coming to town.”
  • The Lowdown: The annual reindeer harvest of a rural Finnish community is disrupted when a pagan burial mound is unearthed by a nearby multinational corporation. A horde of feral, naked “Father Christmas” figures overrun the village, slaughtering the reindeer, stealing the local children, and generally preparing for the awakening of a gigantic, primordial pagan deity. The village men and their sons must fight the evil Santas and protect their community from the old-timey Christmas monster.

If you haven’t seen Rare Exports our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: This blog post is sponsored by….Krampus.

Sean: So, we’re discussing Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, which we did not watch together, but each saw when it came out last year.

Kristine: And have you seen the short films that the feature was based on?

Sean: I watched one, back when I saw the film originally.

Kristine: I think the first one, “Rare Exports, Inc.” is really excellent, hilarious and awesome. The second one, “Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions,” is good, but not as good.

Sean: Well, when did you first see the feature-length film? Who with?

Kristine: I first saw the movie at the historic Texas Theatre (where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended) with my roommate and my parents. You?

Sean: I saw it alone at The Loft at a weird midweek 10pm showing and there was only one other person in the huge downstairs theater. I had walked over when we lived right across the street. I like snuck out of bed and ran away to go see it on a whim. Your parents were with you?

Kristine: Yep. They were in Texas visiting me, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and the four of us went. I recall my Dad liking it and Mom being, “Meh.”

Sean: I am shocked that your Ma loved Micmacs but was lukewarm on this.

Kristine: Well, I think I remember you and I discussing Rare Exports back in 2010, and I liked it much more than you did.

Sean: Yes, I have that memory.

Kristine: What did you think of the original short? I think it is superior to the full-length feature. As I remember, it opens with the three main adult males from the film (we must discuss the masculinity of the film) on a hunt, but you don’t know what they are hunting. Then they shoot a naked, wild Father Christmas and bring him to their warehouse and train him to be a Santa.

Sean: The short is so much more abut Finnish national identity, right? And the Finns taking back ownership of the whole “Father Christmas” concept.

Kristine: Agreed. It’s very, “This was our thing, world” but also making fun of the whole story by making the Santas feral and uncanny. Krampus. I like, too, how the story is partly a fantasy of average Finns making money off the concept. It’s a good joke.

Sean: Yes. It’s interesting that this is becoming a subgenre – Nordic countries repackaging their own mythology for the 21st century. Norway’s Troll Hunter, the found footage troll movie that just came out, is another example of that. Also, by the way, I want to steer this towards a discussion of the whole concept of “holiday horror” and the uncanny side of the X-mas season. But to your point, I agree that the most important conversation to have about Rare Exports is one about masculinity. I am fascinated by the all-male world of the movie and that made me like it much more on this second viewing.

Kristine: Yes, I seem to recall that Pietari mentions some girls have been snatched but we never meet a female. And his mom being dead is a major thing…

Sean: Totes.

Kristine: Finn = Men. Wait. I just remembered – isn’t Tom of Finland some big gay thing???

Hi, we’re in the woods and there’s wood in our pants. Get it!?! (by Tom of Finland)

Sean: Yes. But I don’t even know what Tom of Finland even really is, except some kind of leather imagery. Is it art or something?

Kristine: He was a Finnish artist and he was for real.

Sean: Tom of Finland is sort of dumb.

Kristine: You know that busted show, The A List?

Sean: Yes. Never seen it, but I know the premise.

Kristine: There is a “famous” gay photographer on that show who is obsessed with Tom of Finland imagery. I really associate it with ‘80s gay men. Is that off base?

Sean: I think Tom of Finland was making stuff and being all controversial in the 1950s and ‘60s, but I think of it as being a look that is very ‘70s to early ‘80s, too. I cannot believe that people even take it seriously.

Kristine: I think they do. Though I have to say, I don’t think gay style changed for a long time. I was just going to say that it seems to me that the same “type” was hot in the gay world for a really long time…super muscular, short hair, wearing shorty-shorts, construction-worker-looking. For like, the ‘70s, ‘80s AND ‘90s, and even somewhat today. Whereas it seems like the ideal for the straights changes from year to year. First boobs are in, then scrawny, then J-Lo booty, then no booty – always changing. Bubble butts.

Sean: Weird. I think that “type” you’re describing goes back all the way to the early 20th century actually. Maybe even older, to 19th c. “lumberjack” types. Walt Whitman would jerk off to Tom of Finland. Why do the gays have such unimaginative ideas of sexy?

Kristine: I don’t know. Back to Rare Exports… It was, like, 7 years between the shorts and the feature. The film got made cause the shorts were so beloved. Around 1,000,000 people viewed each one of them.

Sean: Yeah – I think the movie’s origins as an “expansion” of a short film are telling, because I don’t think it quite works as a feature.

Kristine: Yeah – the shorts are better, but I did like the film.

Sean: I liked the movie more watching it a second time, but I still think it is a series of missed opportunities. It could have been one of the greatest movies ever made but I think it lacks the courage of its convictions.

Kristine: It was an interesting choice to have the film from Pietari’s POV since, as I mentioned, the OG short doesn’t have a child. Though the second one does, the same actor who portrayed Pietari, I believe.

Sean: And I think the “Finnish” sense of humor is too dry for my tastes…

Kristine: Huh.

Sean: It needed more camp and more “horror” and more action, for god’s sake. I really feel like an American saying that, but it’s how I feel.

Kristine: Ha ha – you are not sophisticated enough for the European sensibility.

Sean: Apparently.

Kristine: Well, one thing I was completely clueless about that I now see is the connection to… The Thing.

Sean: Explain.

Kristine: Well, the fact that something has laid dormant in ice…then society dredges it up.

Sean: Good call. Though in this case, a queeny foreman makes a bunch of workers dredge it up….

Kristine: And it destroys them, but it is not necessarily evil, that is just its nature.

Horror Movie Bit o’ Widsom #427: Whenever there appears a dandy of mysterious origins, Evil shall follow.

Sean: It’s fascinating how the Arctic figures in our collective imagination as a place that contains buried secrets.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: And old, ancient evil…

Kristine: Preserved….sleeping…waiting.

Sean: Yes. Lots of movies have used the ocean similarly but I like the drama of the Arctic. The location is so atmospheric.

Kristine: So, one of my fave scenes in the movie is when young Pietari’s schooling himself on Krampus through reading the old books.

Pietari illustrates his own violent, pagan fantasies

Sean: Yes I loved all the old timey mythology stuff. I think Rare Exports only used the setting to great effect in some places, and the film could have done more with the atmo of Finland. I think Carpenter’s The Thing is extremely good at using the location to build atmosphere.

Kristine: I thought all the whizzing about on snowmobiles, and the cold, and the Mucho Macho™ stuff was all very “Nordic.”

Sean: Yeah. The world of the movie is really an interesting one, I just wish we got to see more of it. I basically told my boyfriend: Um, this is the farm you grew up on and he was like, I guess it is. In the U.S., these characters would be “rednecks.”

Kristine: Rural = rural = rural the world round. Mucho Macho™…hunting…dudes with tough exteriors and soft interiors…

Sean: Yes, but somehow these guys don’t seem as belligerent and conservative as U.S. rednecks would. I think Pietari is sort of queer and the extremely “macho” men allow and tolerate his queerness.

The “rednecks” and their pet fancy boy.

Kristine: I agree that he is presented as “soft.” His jerk friend is his foil. Is Pietari’s feyness related to him losing his mom?

Sean: Yes, but even the friend is girlish and has an earring and long girly-girl hair and bats his soft little eyelashes at life. I just think it’s fascinating how queerness can exist in very conservative places and just be tolerated and not questioned. Like very queeny guys who live in the hood, and like cut hair at the salon or just traipse around snapping their fingers. And all the thugs are just like, these fairies are a part of the scene, deal with it. Sometimes where you expect to find virulent homophobia, you instead find this counter-intuitive balancing act of tolerance and discomfort.

Kristine: Agreed. Though part of the “trouble” comes about because Pietari tries to abide by hetero rules, right?

Sean: What do you mean?

Kristine: Well, correct me if I am mistaken, since I haven’t seen the film in a year…but doesn’t his bully BF tell Pietari not to tell the adults what they have done? Basically, to abide by boy’s club rules and not get the other person in trouble, instead of following his gay heart and telling his Papa?

Sean: Right, but then it becomes a moot issue because the evil elf falls into Pietari’s dad’s trap and blows the whistle on the whole thing.

Kristine: True, but still.

Sean: I guess… I am not moved by that analysis.

Kristine: I am texting Krampus your address and telling him to scoop you up in a sack.

Sean: The all-male world of the movie – does it scare you?

Kristine: No. I think it works for this movie.

Sean: It unsettles me. I am scared of them all hosing down the naked evil elves and then dressing them up and commodifying them. It’s very surreal and very weird and fascinating.

The movie puts its heroes to the task of sanitizing the “dirty old man”… Literally.

Kristine: The Santa School is the best part of the movie and the short.

Sean: Agreed. It’s the movie’s best “joke.”

Kristine: I love socializing the Santas. The relationship between Pietari and his dad was the least interesting part of the movie to me.

Sean: I just want to go on record: it’s bullshit that the huge paleolithic Santa monster doesn’t get any screentime.

Kristine: True, you only see…what? His horns?

Sean: I actually can’t forgive the movie for that and it offends me to a great, great degree.

Movie to audience: “Wouldn’t it be cool if this monster did something? Well, tough!”

Kristine: Did you find the Father Christmases scary? I did.

Sean: What? The evil elves?

Kristine: Yeah. In the short, they are called Father Christmases.

Sean: Yes. Very uncanny and cool.

Kristine: I thought they were fucking terrifying. I loved them being emaciated in the feature.

Sean: I thought it was clear that the huge beast is Santa and all the old men are his elves and that we have always mistaken the elves for what Santa looks like when really he’s a giant Satan.

Kristine: I think they are Father Christmases, and he is… Krampus.

Sean: Cool. As my bf pointed out when we watched this, the giant behemoth Krampus could have just woken up seconds before they blew him to bits. I would have been satisfied with that. Why are the filmmakers so dumb?

Kristine: Yeah. The premise is undeniably awesome, but then the movie just turns into an action movie, right?

Sean: Not even. If only it had. It never shifts into full on action mode ever. It’s like the Nords all daintily eating their briny fishheads and being like, “Action? That’s so ‘United States’” Instead it’s like what a fat dumb granny thinks is action.

Kristine: Calm down. Is the movie anti-American? I can’t remember enough about that plot point. Refresh me.

Sean:  Well, the Americans are part of the corporation that drills up the evil Krampus and his Santas. So I think the movie’s default position is that dumb Americans are dummy dums. Yawn. I guess I am mad that they had such a great idea and so many wonderful touches…..

Kristine: They did.

Sean: But then they turn in a movie that is great in parts but at its worst is sort of boring.

Kristine: The “trap” part was so creepy and awesome. With the goat head…was it a goat? [Editor’s Note: It’s actually a pig’s head.]  I loved the gingerbread bit, too.

Sean: I love the weird pagan hand carved dummies that the Santas leave in place of the stolen kids. And I love when the men all find the hundreds of potatoes in the dirt because the Santas stole all the sacks.

Don’t they sell this at Cost Plus for $49.95? They call it their “Rustic Desiccated Simulacrum.”

Kristine: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. The rescuing the children part was semi-weak …though I loved rounding up the Father Christmases in the pen.

Sean: The image of all the FCs running nude through the snow after the helicopter is a fantastic image.

Kristine: That part was cool…and when the Father Christmases stole the space heaters and hair dryers? Great detail.

Sean: Yes. A lot of fantastic details.

Kristine: Lots of good little bits.

Sean: I hate to be this guy but – there was no gore. And no violence and no one dies.

Kristine: Oh, Sean.

Sean: No monster attacks.

Kristine: Expand your mind about what “horror” can be.

Sean: I’m sorry but, give me at least one scary Santa eating someone’s face.

Kristine: Do you think this is more speculative fiction than horror? Also, check out the second short for a hint of gore and violence.

Sean: Yeah I think it’s meant as a “dark fairy tale” but with a modern twist. But even in the old fairy tales people be cuttin’ limbs off and throwing viscera at each other.

Kristine: I thought Pietari’s fear felt real when he is trying to keep himself awake? I liked that part a lot. And his desperation and frustration at the adult world not understand/listening…

Sean: Yes, you are right. Honestly, I think it’s a good movie despite not meeting some of my personal expectations.

Kristine: That common kid emotion was portrayed very well. “Listen to me!” says Pietari. So universal kiddie.

Sean: And I find the dad figures to be strangely alluring and sexual.

Kristine: I thought they were hot, also. But also, they’re everything I hate.

Sean: I like that the Dad is gruff and macho and sensitive and kind. I actually like the way the movie imagines the Dad character a lot. And I like the son/dad relaylay.

Finland’s Viggo Mortensen

Kristine: I did too, but it was still the least interesting to me.

Sean: Hmmmm.

Kristine: I thought the dash of class conflict was good.

Sean:Yes, but what are we to make of the ending? It’s supposed to be, like, a working class victory right? It’s very capitalist and I think of that region as socialist, though I’m probably being ignorant.

Kristine: Yes. Because the men at then end are exploiting a natural resource, which is what the evil Americans were doing. They are advancing with the times, giving up their old ways. And doing so…happily.

Sean: But they’re heroes because the reindeer were slaughtered and so they’re improvising a living.

Kristine: You’re right, it’s problematic. They don’t just save themselves from the evil, they enslave the evil. But that’s what makes it so dark and its the integral punch line of the joke.

Sean: Yes, but they also domesticate the pagan and make it unthreatening – no?

Kristine: The shorts make it much more clear that the “Santas” are still wild and dangerous even though they are tamed…so watch out kiddies. That’s one reason why the shorts are stronger than the film.

Sean: It’s very “Old ways, schmold ways – this is the 21st century, Santas! Get in your crate!” I like the Santas still being dangerous.

The Finnish: Mullets, garish sweaters, attitude

Kristine: They are. If you fuck up, if you are naughty, even though they are “domesticated” that will set them off. I think that is the message of the shorts. Which is awesome. And, also, that’s what I think makes it a horror movie – because isn’t “punishment” for naughty behavior a huge trope? At least in slasher movies? Like, “the slut” gets it?

Sean: Yes, but I thought all the “Don’t swear or smoke” stuff in the movie was sort of dumb.

Kristine: I liked it.

Sean: I just have a couple questions before we wrap up. I want to know if you thought Christmas was scary at all as a kid, or if any of it was uncanny for you.

Kristine: For me, it was not scary. It was just exciting.

Sean: You had no problem with Santa?

Kristine: Though usually my sister and I would get in trouble for being over-excited. Santa was not problematic for me, as I remember, anyway. I do remember that because we lived in Europe we also did the wooden shoes deal and got candy, on, I think, December 5.

Sean: Well, I was terrified of Santa when I was a wee. And my mom said I would not go near any old men and that I would run away and hide and cry and that if she wanted me to use a public bathroom she had to scope it out to be sure no old men were in there first.

Kristine: There is a family pic of me on Santa’s lap sobbing…

Sean: I thought Santa was a scary monster. I did not want to confide anything to an old man. Anything.

Kristine: That sounds more like anti-pedo survival skills then anti-Santa. I think you were just being smart.

Sean: I wanted Mrs. Klaus to make me hot cocoa and tell me her life story.

Kristine: Old men are gross and scary, case closed.

Sean: I do think it’s smart of horror to use the uncanny side of X-mas. I mean, a strange man stealing into your house at night is terrifying. It’s an intruder fantasy. I like the Christmas season only if I think of it through a decadent, ancient, pagan lens. Like, winter solstice and horny druids and stuff.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: And horror movies have a long, storied tradition of exploiting X-mas for horror more than any other holiday, which I find fascinating.

Kristine: Agreed.

Sean: There are like, barely any Easter horror movies or Thanksgiving but there are a million X-mas ones.

Kristine: I was thinking that, about other “holiday” movies…few and far between.

Sean: Right. So, why do you think horror is obsessed with X-mas?

Kristine: I think the foil of family, safety, wholesomeness, plenty, happiness, cheer, bounty is pretty irresistable.

Sean: Right….

Kristine: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” That’s why. And Jesus.

Sean: I love that wherever we want to imagine the best of things, we are drawn to imbue that space with darkness.

Kristine: So, you got to counter Jesus with Satan. It’s the nature of humans to look for the flip side of every coin.

Sean: I still want to deconstruct why horror does X-mas and not other “happy days.”

Kristine: Go for it. I gave my best guess…the cold and gloom helps, too. Fourth of July doesn’t have the gravitas.

Sean: I guess my theory about why horror can’t quit it with the Christmas movies is that X-mas more than any other holiday still is imbued with the paganness of the “Time Before the Christ-Lord” and that all the dark, creepy Pre-Christian stuff seeps through….

Kristine: I would agree with that, yes, except what about Halloween????

Sean: I know, Halloween is the other one but Halloween is about permission to indulge in darkness.

Kristine: Right. Christmas horror is turnabout.

Sean: What’s fascinating about X-mas is that it is supposed to be a time to deny darkness…. I really feel like it, more than Halloween, is a time for dark impulses to emerge.

Kristine: Fuck you, happy nuclear family.

Sean:  Right – the “story” of Christmastime is really exclusive and sad and depressing and alienates and destroys people.

Kristine: Yeah, you don’t hear about scores of people falling into a deep depression around Halloween time.

Sean: Of course not because Halloween is permission to let your freak flag fly.

Kristine: Yes, because Halloween doesn’t have these expectations of having a “perfect” holiday of family and wealth.

Sean: X-mas reminds you that being a freak is “bad.”

Kristine: Yes. Normalcy. Shopping. Hetero white family. Engagement ring under the tree.

Sean: So I think horror movies tune in on the pressure of normalcy and stage these violent incursions of the queer and the non-normative then because that’s when the stakes are highest.

Kristine: I agree with all of this and I love it.

Sean: It’s all in order to prove that the X-mas narrative is “right.”

Kristine: Or not.

Sean: Well, usually the queer threat is destroyed and the X-mas spirit prevails. Horror is the ultimate genre that seems subversive on the surface but is almost always deeply traditional and conservative underneath the bloody gayness. I really think horror is about reaffirming the status quo by allowing for elasticity and mock threats…

Kristine: Sometimes.

Sean: …and letting us externalize our darkness.

Kristine: To show how important it is to protect the status quo. So, do you think Rare Exports confirms or threatens the status quo?

Sean: I think Rare Exports is interesting because the world it sets up is already queer. This weird all-male world.

One of the film’s strangest set-pieces: Pietari, in panties, looks on as his father butchers a figurative vagina.

Kristine: Right. No women.

Sean: It is not a normative tale.

Kristine: The men take on female roles all throughout the movie, but it never “compromises” their masculinity, it just complicates it. Like when they rescue their children, or when they teach the Santas. Those are “female” roles: Nurturer, teacher.

Sean: And that problem (of a lack of femalesness) is not resolved by the movie’s ending. In fact, they’ve commodified maleness and are now marketing it and exporting it. But it’s a feral, pagan, phallic maleness that is threatening to the world they’re shipping it out into. Remember all the Santas running around naked, cocks unsheathed.

Kristine: Right, because even though they use a female method (teaching), it is for a male end (capitalism and exploitation).

Sean: Right. The boxes even are uterine spaces that the Santas are then “born” out of. Again, all of this is done without women, without female bodies. Female bodies have no place in this world.

Kristine: So females would have cared for the Father Christmases and enveloped them into the family structure… Yeah, this is all true.

Sean: And I think Pietari is this feminine male whose femininity is not contained or crushed but allowed to exist. It’s kind of radi-queer.

Kristine: I am upset at the idea that non-normative, but still relatively heterosexual, modes of masculinity cannot exist in the world unless women are removed.

Sean:Let’s be upset together.

Kristine: Merry Krampus.

Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: A worthy film, but won’t keep me up at night.

The Freak’s rating: Nice try, folks.


11 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Jalmari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

  1. I agree with Sean that the horned being is Santa and the Father Christmases are his helpers that do his work around the world. I do love Krampus but he’s more of an Austrian thing and wouldn’t really be the main man behind all of this. Supposedly someone’s been working on an animated Krampus film for a few years and will allegedly come out Xmas 2013.

    For the record, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) is the best horror holiday film. Watch it every Xmas Eve and it is still eerie after many, many viewings. You can’t go wrong with Silent Night, Deadly Night 1,2 and 5 (3 and 4 aren’t that great), Santa’s Slay, Christmas Evil or The Children. But Gremlins is quite great.

  2. Black Christmas is fantastic, especially for the Margot Kidder quotient! Silent Night, Deadly Night was one of the slashers I saw as a very very young kid and it really upset me; I’ve never watched it as an adult and I can’t wait to revisit it (but am annoyed Netflix doesn’t have it in stock and my local video store only has it on VHS)….

    I think we’re going to try to commemorate holidays with appropriate movies. Which of course means Critters 2 come Easter!

  3. Also Damon, have you seen Bob Clark’s Deathdream? Love the blend of family melodrama and zombie gore. Plus the monster-guy is genuinely terrifying!

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