One of my favorite things about world cinema is that the filmmakers seem more willing to take risks, which is exactly how a movie like “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” gets made. Though it’s only a Christmas film in the vaguest sense of the phrase, the holiday genre could do with more original ideas like this. Set in present day Finland where a team of archaeologists have just unearthed the evil Santa Claus of local lore who eats the children that have been naughty, the movie follows a young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his reindeer-herding father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) as they inadvertently capture Santa in a wolf trap and hold him for ransom. But when the rest of the village children go missing and Santa’s little helpers begin wreaking havoc in town, Pietari and Rauno discover that there’s more to their prisoner than meets the eye.
But before you start thinking that “Rare Exports” is just another Christmas-themed horror movie like “Silent Night” (even if it seems to be heading in that direction early on), the film is actually more like a strange collaboration between Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg – a dark but whimsical father-son story about one child’s fascination with the Santa Claus myth and his attempt to earn the respect of his dad. Although it takes a while to get going for a movie that’s only 82 minutes long, director Jalmari Helander does a good job of holding the audience’s interest by slowly revealing pieces of the mystery until the film eventually shifts into adventure mode in the final act. “Rare Exports” probably could have done a lot more on a bigger budget, but that would have only taken away from its unique charm.