There are a lot of classic Christmas movies out there. And, yes, that includes Die Hard. For this article, however, we’re heading to Finland to discuss Jaimari Helander’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010). The film will not be as rough as the previous ones I've covered here at Couch Soup, so you can breathe a sigh of relief! But, by the time I finish, you may never look at Santa Claus the same way again.
Our story begins in Korvantanturi, a fell (mountain) located in the Lapland region of Finland. After examining the area, a member of a drilling team called Subzero discovers a burial mound on top of the fell, hiding something significant. The men do not notice two boys, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) and Pietari (Onni Tommila), who are eavesdropping. The kids then discuss the existence of Santa Claus because Korvantanturi possibly being the home of the Finnish Christmas figure Joulupukki, his inspiration. Neither of the kids can come up with a conclusion, and they subsequently head home.
Several more events follow after Juuso and Pietari’s conversation. First, Pietari’s father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila), notices a herd of reindeer slaughtered, leaving nothing but bones. Later, at Korvantanturi, Rauno finds the Subzero group is nowhere in sight. Instead, there is just a large hole in the mountain. As if these things weren’t bad enough, various items and children have gone missing from the village on Christmas Eve. The only clue the citizens have about what happened is an elderly man (Peeter Jakobi) who was caught in Rauno’s trap which was meant to catch whatever killed the reindeer. The man resembles Santa, except he’s so thin you can see his bones poking out his skin. From there on out, Lapland is about to uncover the true meaning behind the mysterious happenings.
What sets this film apart from other Christmas films is its willingness to offer a unique side to the Santa Claus legend. As you might have figured out by now, this is not the Santa featured in movies like Elf. After Pietari returns home from Korvantanturi, he reads a book. One drawing shows Santa, or Joulupukki, with horns and boiling naughty children in a cauldron. It sounds a bit like Krampus, doesn’t it? Well, this depiction is close to what actual Finnish folklore describes. The name roughly translates to “Yule Goat,” with pukki coming from the German word “bock,” meaning goat or, sometimes, buck. Joulupukki frequently wore a red coat turned inside out, along with a mask.
Even more interesting is the fact that Joulupukki has pagan (not our Pagan Plays, but how cool would that be?) roots. An ancient tradition involved dressing up in a goat costume around Christmas time in hopes of earning leftover food. The costumed person would need to perform specific acts to do so. Another tradition states that on Christmas Eve, a man gets turned into Joulupukki. Regardless, the stories surrounding Joulupukki have made him one of Finland’s most popular folklore figures.
As Rare Exports progresses, Pietari and Rauno slowly unravel the truth behind the Joulupukki tradition. This reveals a prominent theme in the movie: the metaphor for losing childhood innocence after discovering the truth behind Santa Claus. Rare Exports has a much worse instance of this happening, especially with Pietari and the kidnapped village children.
Another truth gets revealed close to the climax. Do you remember the man resembling Santa I mentioned earlier? Well, he’s closer to Joulupukki than the characters and audience thought: he’s one of his elves. When the Subzero team unearthed Joulupukki, they awakened the elves. Only one survivor, Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen), lives to tell the tale to the heroes: an elf is primarily attracted to someone acting naughty. Pietari concludes that the elves were responsible for taking away the town’s children.
Eventually, Pietari, Rauno, and his friends reach the location of the missing kids, including Juuso, at an airbase. Unfortunately, they also find a frozen Joulupukki being melted by heaters. A whole elf army also comes to attack, killing several people, including Riley. Luckily, Rauno and the others save the day by setting up explosives, capturing the elves, rescuing the kids, and blowing up Joulupukki’s ice block. As for what happens to the elves—you’ll have to watch for yourself!
Rare Exports is one of those movies that effortlessly blends multiple genres. It mixes action, fantasy, horror, and even comedy to create a unique viewing experience. One minute it’s giving you thrills and chills, the next minute, it feels like a Spielberg movie for kids, especially when it comes to Pietari. I saw this movie with Mom a few years ago, and we were pleasantly surprised. If you want a Christmas movie that takes an unconventional route, check this film out.
Well, I hope you all are having a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! What content would you like me to explore? Foreign horror films are more than welcome. Sound off in the comments below, and see you next year!