The yuletide season has always been fertile ground for subversive-minded filmmakers, with results ranging from the coal-black satires of The Ref and Bad Santa to full-on grody horror movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas. (Personal fave: Elves, in which a boozy department-store Santa [Dan Haggarty!] discovers bloodthirsty Nazi experiments lurking in the North Pole.) Despite the previous questionable advancements in its field, the Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale may be the first to feature naked old men wrinkledly galumphing through the tundra while a little boy frantically begs for his dad to save his life by giving him a spanking. You can stand down, Phoebe Cates in Gremlins—a new level of ho-ho WTF? has been reached.
Writer/director Jalmari Helander’s feature-length debut cannily blends elements from classic folktales with The Thing: While working on a top-secret project in the mountains on the Finnish/Russian border, an American drilling team releases something from the ice, which begins leaving scads of partially devoured wildlife in its wake. As the reindeer carcasses pile up and December 25 draws closer, a village boy (the wonderfully deadpan Onni Tommila) begins to suspect that the original Santa Claus is on his way to spank naughty children into oblivion.
Expanding on a series of internet shorts, director Helander strikes a fine balance between creepy and darkly comic, delivering a sharply askew Home Alone riff goosed by brief bits of more traditional horror splatter (St. Nick has a thing for ears, apparently). While the pace does occasionally falter, even at 80 minutes, Rare Exports is ultimately a spooky, funny, weirdly heartwarming fable that—were it not for the aforementioned glimpses of non-CGIed geriatric bits—might actually be suitable for kids of all ages. Practice your eye-covering, parents.