Like a Geek God #14 by Mark Pursell
Geeking Out About Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
A large part of our shared cultural experience every December centers on holiday-themed movies. From A Miracle on 34th Street to A Muppet Christmas Carol, Christmas has provided filmmakers with both material and motivation for decades. Generally speaking, though, Christmas movies tend to conform to two very specific criteria: most are American in origin (even Love Actually, set in England, tends to feel like an American person’s fantasy of the motherland rather than something genuinely British), and most tend to fall on the treacly side of the spectrum. There is something about Christmas that brings out the sentimentality in storytellers. Movies like Gremlins, which uses Christmas as a context for comedy/horror, or A Christmas Story, which fixes a cynical and blackly funny eye on Rockwell-esque Christmas nostalgia, tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule. As a result, there are a lot of Christmas-themed or Christmas-related movies from foreign countries and with sentiments that aren’t exactly traditionally warmhearted that go unnoticed despite their merits.
One such movie that came to my attention last year is the very strange but very excellent Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, currently streaming on Netflix Instant Play.
Rare Exports is difficult to synopsize without ruining it for first-time viewers. Described as a “horror/fantasy”, the movie follows a father and son who become drawn into the mysteries surrounding the origins of Santa Claus, a quest that eventually locks them in battle with an ancient, malevolent entity that has been sleeping under the mountain near their village for centuries. That all sounds a bit “B-movie”, but what’s most remarkable about Rare Exports is that despite how it sounds on paper, it’s a legitimately entertaining and well-crafted movie. Filmmaker Jalmari Helander weaves Santa Claus lore together with elements from the legends of Krampus to create a hybrid mythos of his own, with enough complexity and quality worldbuilding to hit any geek’s buttons just right. Interestingly enough, Rare Exports is also a touching story of a father and son struggling to connect, their interpersonal problems thrown into relief by the danger they encounter. To say more would be to ruin the pleasure of discovering it for yourself, if you haven’t seen it. It’s the perfect holiday movie for the geek in all of us. Check it out.
Mark Pursell (Episode 75) is a lifelong geek and lover of words. His publishing credits include Nimrod International Journal, The New Orleans Review, and The Florida Review, where he also served as poetry editor. His work can most recently be seen in the first volume of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology from Burrow Press. He currently teaches storytelling and narrative design for video games at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.