Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Christmas, not unlike Facebook, has an unsavory creature at the center of its creation myth. Finnish director Jalmari Helandar riffs on the legendary Krampus, an ancient anti-Claus responsible for taking care of those on the wrong side of the he-knows-when-you’ve-been-bad-or-good equation.

At a remote rural outpost in Finland’s north country, an archaeological dig supervised by a shady multinational has unearthed what appears to be an antiquated cold-storage unit for a giant whatsit. Soon after, children from the nearby village vanish. Likewise, portable space heaters and, more bizarre, the sacks that held a potato crop (but not the tubers). As the profit motive for the excavation is slowly revealed, a local butcher and his young son vie for their own piece of the action. (To reveal what the actual “exports” are would be a spoiler.)

The cast is comprised of uniformly grizzly men, with a couple of fresh-faced young boys thrown in for contrast. (It would seem there are no women in these parts.) The meticulous production design and solid photography make for a vivid and fully realized world—decaying and, at times, decomposing in an almost viscerally felt manner. But by the end, Helandar’s movie feels more like an elaborate punchline to an overwrought joke, a thematic gibe more appropriate for a short film—which is how the project began in the first place.