From a certain angle, "Rare Exports" might sound like a typical heartwarming yuletide yarn: It's 24 days till Christmas, and a precocious young boy is determined to prove that Santa exists, while his hard-working widowed father suffers a major business setback. But the nog is spiked with twisted black humor in this frosty Finnish fantasy.
The hero is a take-charge kid (Onni Tommila) who lives in northern Finland with his reindeer-hunter father (played by his real-life dad, Jorma Tommila). Just as hundreds of deer meet an unexpected fate that puts the father on the brink of bankruptcy, the boy discovers that a scientific dig across the Russian border has unearthed Father Christmas. His subsequent research — in beautifully illustrated books of Scandinavian myths — shows him that the old codger was a child-hating monster.
What unfolds is a dark comic thriller and action-hero send-up, a strange alloy of daredevil helicopter maneuvers and night of the living elves. Captured in atmospheric widescreen camerawork, the end-of-the-world frozen landscape (actually Norway) is spectacular and spooky.
In his first feature (based on a concept he originated in a series of shorts), writer-director Jalmari Helandar draws upon a trove of movie clichés, complete with emotion-tugging music, to take aim at the entrepreneurial spirit of the contemporary Christmas season. The brisk English- and Finnish-language film is likely to become a winter favorite for those allergic to holiday treacle.
"Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale." MPAA rating: R for some nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. In limited release.