Tag Archives: Finnish

CAPSULE: RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

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DIRECTED BY: Jalmari Helander

FEATURING: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Jonathan Hutchings

PLOT: On the Finnish/Russian border, an excavation crew disturbs an evil that has been buried for centuries—the real Santa Claus!

Still from Rare Exports (2010)

COMMENTS: Set in a chilly Lapland that’s eerily devoid of women (the fairer sex are, apparently, even rarer than Santa Claus), Rare Exports is a slow-burn horror marketed as a black comedy. It wears its coat of absurdity lightly, taking its  outré premise about a monstrous Christmas spirit with, if not utmost seriousness, at least the same amount of gravitas that you’d expect from a B-movie about summoning a standard-issue Hollywood demon. It always helps an enterprise like this when you can get a good performance from a child actor. Young Pietari, whose father requires him to close his eyes when he enters the slaughterhouse so he won’t be traumatized by reindeer corpses, starts off still believing in a benevolent gift-giving Santa. The boy grows into (naturally) the only one who recognizes the danger posed by Santa, and eventually into the savior of his small village. Dressed for much of the movie in improvised armor—a hockey helmet and shoulderpads—young Onni Tommila, alternately quizzical and confident, outshines the older actors, who all play rustic stoics.

Despite a surprising amount of geriatric nudity, Rare Exports is not really a weird movie—but it was an original one when it was released in 2010. Aside from the similarly-themed but little-seen Santa’s Slay (2005), previous Christmas horrors had been almost exclusively slasher flicks about madmen obsessed with Santa Claus who dressed up like the jolly old elf for their killing sprees. Rare Exports instead identified Santa himself as evil—recalling his legendary Finnish origins as Joulupukki, the “Yule Goat.” This movie inspired other horror filmmakers to research the darker side of Yuletide legends, leading to the rediscovery of Krampus and a series of competing films about the Christmas devil. In other words, Rare Exports launched a sub-genre (the demonic Christmas spirit) inside a sub-genre (the holiday-themed horror).

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale derives from two short films from the same director, and serves as a sort of prequel. The shorts are presented as instructional videos, and are more obviously in the black comedy rather than the horror vein. Not to get too deep into spoiler territory, but the shorts suggest “Father Christmases” are a separate, feral species, without acknowledging the single demigod known as “Santa Claus.” The mythos described by the shorts is weirder than that in the feature, and the two don’t seem entirely compatible. In fact, the ending of the feature doesn’t make as much sense independently without seeing the shorts; for most of the film, we are asked to accept on faith the notion that possession of the original Santa Claus would be worth a lot of money, without a sense of how he could be commercially exploited. For my money, the universe of the shorts is superior—the problem being that it’s too much of a one-joke a premise to support an entire movie, which is why the expanded version leans into horror rather than comedy. For the best experience, watch the shorts and the feature in tandem for two different takes on the same basic idea. If you’re the kind of person who liked the Grinch better before his heart grew three sizes, Rare Exports may become a holiday staple at your house. It beats the 200th screening of the usual chestnuts, at least.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

(This movie was nominated for review by “Paul Singleton,” who dubbed it “an excellent movie and very strange to say the least. This one will be certified weird by you guys at some point.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: SAMURAI RAUNI REPOSAARELAINEN (2016)

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AKA Samurai Rauni

DIRECTED BY: Mika Rättö

FEATURING: Mika Rättö, Reetta Turtiainen

PLOT: Rauni, a homicidal Finnish samurai, searches for the mysterious “Shame Tear,” who has placed a price on his head.

Still from Samurai Rauni Reposaarelainen (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This deliberate cult item, with Nordic ninjas and Scandinavian samurai, plays like a low-grade acid trip and raises its artistic sights in the mystical and mystifying final act, but ultimately it’s more Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. than El Topo.

COMMENTS: As much a cross between and  as it is between Finnish and Japanese culture, Samurai Rauni Reposaarelainen is a messy would-be cult item that may be too off-putting in its mishmash of tones and its despicable anti-hero for all but the most adventurous audiences. Rauni the Finnish samurai is a scraggly, drunken rapist with bad teeth, clad in a fisherman’s wool sweater and a “Popeye the Sailor” cap. He’s a dick who terrorizes the locals of Meri-Pori, a frozen marsh overlooked by a coal plant and wind turbines, during his drunken rampages, but he’s also a magical fighter who decapitates ninja assassins with a blade of grass. This makes him a problem with no easy solution; thus, a mysterious enemy puts a price on his head.

The inhabitants of the movie’s insular Nipponophilic world randomly wear white pancake makeup like geishas or noh actors, and/or have bizarre accoutrements like a wire-frame headdress draped with a strand of pearls, suggesting the costume designer was either a Finnish thrift store genius or a deranged drunk the crew found wandering in a junkyard. One character is spray-painted gold. The costumes and sets have a punkish, esuqe feel to them, although the exceptional cinematography belies that dime store ambiance.

Most of the movie is an extended quest that’s shaggier than Rauni’s beard, as the samurai tracks down various suspects and former masters and slaughters them. Each scene exists in its own little world, rather than serving the whole. Most impressive is a well-choreographed battle at a buffet table (with a servant who keeps filling up Rauni’s glass as he fights); it alternates between slow and fast motion and, although mock epic in intent, still suggests how clever camerawork and planning can create an thrilling action sequence on a minimal budget. Other sequences drag, like the training montage, or seem pointlessly out-of-place even in this rambling movie, like Rauni dancing on stage at a post-wedding rave. It ends with a true Surrealist flourish, by turns horrific and poignant, as Rauni loses the power of speech and, prompted by nonverbal goblins in a canoe, dives through a door in a lake into an underwater world to finally learn the truth about the price on his head.

Though likely intended as a comedy, most of the humor is either bone dry, or perhaps so inherently Finnish that I couldn’t catch it (when Rauni challenges one ex-master to a series of contests that include a game of “Risk,” it’s about the closest thing to a conventional joke you’ll find). The movie is so odd and personal that it’s almost impossible to predict who will like it and who will hate it, a feature that the marketing campaign cleverly plays up by putting a selection of critics quotes on the back of the Blu-ray that range all the way from one star to a perfect score, and every rating in between. Obviously, if you’re one of those readers who prefers movies marked to ones marked , then this is for you. It will be interesting to see if Mika Rättö will grow as a director—he seems like he could benefit from a more disciplined structure—or whether he’s the kind of auteur who only had one strange movie in him dying to get out.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a batshit-weird work of art with a surprising amount of heart.”–Andrew Todd, birth. movies. death (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by director , who called it ” one of the most satisfyingly odd movies that has come out recently.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)