Christmas horror movies have become as much of a holiday tradition as adaptations of A Christmas Carol, so the weird Finnish movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is in plentiful (if dubious) company. Rare Exports isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t an uplifting holiday story, either: It reaches back to old folk tales about Santa Claus, who was once known as a horned beast who punished naughty children by boiling them alive. Apparently this ancient evil has been buried for centuries in a mountain near a rural Finnish village, only to be unearthed by an expedition led by a greedy businessman. Only a young boy (Onni Tommila) realizes what’s really going on, while the local hunters believe that wolves (not Santa and his feral elves) are responsible for the slaughter of their reindeer herd (yes, this Santa kills reindeer instead of befriending them).
So you brace yourself for a Santa-fied killing rampage, but it never comes. The movies creeps slowly toward a disappointingly muddled ending, and the potential of evil Santa unleashed on the world remains unrealized. Tommila is mildly charming as the kid who knows more about the threat than any of the adults do, and he gets some amusing moments as he takes charge of the anti-Santa operation. Writer-director Jalmari Helander, expanding on a pair of his short films, seems to run out of ideas pretty quickly, and the movie barely hits 80 minutes. The tone is sometimes excessively somber, and the shifts into humor don’t exactly succeed. At this point, killer Santa movies are more welcome than new cinematic lessons about holiday togetherness, but Rare Exports is no Christmas Evil or Santa’s Slay.