Santa Claus is comin' to town, with a vengeance and a whole new meaning for the term, "You better watch out". Man, the Finnish would come up with something this crazy, but hey, I reckon I'll run with it, because I hear this film is a good one, even if it is overstylized and too long at two-and-a-half hours. Oh no, wait, that's the French "A Christmas Tale", or rather, "Un Conte de Noël" (I love the French language, but Finnish is just fine, I guess), and this is just some film about a group of reindeer herders who hope to bribe money from scientists by holding hostage... Santa Claus, who is out for the blood of the naughty. ...Oh yeah, this film is much lessy crazy than Arnaud Desplechin's 2008 holiday opus, but then again, 2008's "A Christmas Tale" might very well be weirder, as Desplechin also did some sprawling three-hour drama titled "My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument", so he's got to be a little bit crazy, or, well, a French filmmaker. The real horror film is the one about some poor sucker who gets trapped in a room with some Finnish dude and a French filmmaker, and I would hope that such a film would lean closer to being a Finnish production, because, apparently, Finnish films are shorter. Hey, I don't really care about who's producing what, just as long as I get a good film, like this one, weird or not. Still, with all of this delightful Christmas chills and holiday horror, it's only a matter of time before things go "south" (Get it?), or at least just hit a flaw.
Focusing on a group of mountain-dwellers comabting freshly unfrozen army of killer Santa Clauses who aims to cleanse the world of the naughty by horrifying means, this film's story is an absurdist one that can't possibly be taken serious and, as sure as sunshine, isn't, though not to where it's quite as tongue-in-cheek as you would expect, nor as tongue-in-cheek as it probably should be, because as lively as this film is in its absurdity and degree of self-awareness, there's a certain deadpan attitude behind the humor that leaves the film to take itself much too seriously, which, of course, often leaves humor to fall flat. If nothing else, the degree of self-seriousness sparks a bit of tonal unevenness, as the film will spend long periods flowing along with moderate, if at all present - if you'll excuse the word choice - "subtlety" to its humorous undertones, then leave its under-manipulated tone to fall slave to particularly absurdist parts of the story that throw off the momentum of the humor, which hits only so many times in the first place, due to the aforementioned "seriousness", which isn't to say that this film isn't still not quite as "serious" as it probably should be. Again, this film is absurdist, and there's absolutely no way around that, so I'm not asking for a whole lot of depth to this Christmas horror opus, yet the imbalance between self-seriousness and self-awareness proves to be not only detrimental to the humor, but the substance, because although the film takes itself too seriously, absurdity is undeniable, so much so that the deadpan approaches to the absurdity result in substance tainting that takes some of the meat out of your investment in the "plot", such as it is. Now, people, this story was never to be meaty, yet the film's being both too self-aware and not self-aware enough leave you to pull back a bit when it comes to claiming a grip on the story that should be as significant as the humor, and it doesn't help that the story, even without the absurdities, is rich with flaws, both intentional and unintentional, that often fail to go adequately obscured by self-awareness compensation, thus resulting in an emphasis on predictability-feeding story cliches and, of course, plot thinness, which would be more forgivable if it wasn't for absurdist compensation's not being the only storytelling issue. The final product is saved as consistently engaging and ultimately rewarding by its livliness, and yet, underwhelmingness rears its ugly head into things much too often, backed up by the story's meandering quite a bit for long periods of time that a film cannot afford to lose to underwhelmingness when working on a paper-thin 82-minute runtime, thus sparking blandness that nearly ruins the film as rewarding. There aren't too many flaws to be found within this film, though that's largely because there's just not too much to the film to begin with, thus every misstep takes on a whole lot more potential for sparking general underwhelmingness. Of course, in the long run, while there are plenty of scare, that underwhelmingness doesn't quite claim the final product, which is indeed considerably flawed, but keeps you going through thick and thin, partially with, believe it or not, musicality.
Whether it be intentional or whatever, Juri and Miska Seppä's score work keeps faithful to this film's story's conventionalism, as well as to the film's often taking itself a little bit too seriously, because although I'm not asking for a stupidly wacky soundtrack, the lack of absurdity in the film's musicality supplements the final product's degree of distance from the tongue-in-cheek attitude that it should be having more of, and yet, at the same time, the score work adds to the livliness of the final product, delivering on dynamic entertainment value that may be familiar, but helps greatly in sustaining the film's livliness while delivering on plenty of just plain good tunes. The Seppä brothers' music is surprisingly sharp and adds quite a bit to the final product, much like a certain other piece of artistry that livens things up and hits by its own right more than you would expect: cinematography, because although Mika Orasmaa's photographic efforts aren't exactly breathtaking, they are lovely, being crisply detailed in their coloring and lighting, but still with a certain hint of grit that reflects the fair degree of intensity to the film's tone and helps in making the film's visual style about as lovely and thoroughly engaging as the film's musical style. It's hardly any wonder why this film seems as though it's taking itself too seriously, as stylistic touches are, not necessarily sensational, but more striking than you would think, helping the film in relaxing its face from cracking a smirk, but being nevertheless something to appreciate, much like the story, or at least to a certain extent, as the thin and unevenly handled plot is either too strange or too serious for its own good, though it's not like the concept is completely disengaging, having a few undeniably unique touches and quite a bit of potential that certainly may not aim at much more than visceral fluff, but still offers much in the way of a certain kind of enjoyability. The film's concept is intriguing, and when it comes to final execution, while you can expect plenty of faults, on the whole, justice is done to the intrigue within the story concept, as director Jalmari Helander delivers on an unapologetically lively atmosphere that draws enough from dynamically nifty mythology and the fluff of absurdity to keep you, if nothing else, thoroughly entertained. Such entertainment value does the most in keeping the film alive, but what ultimately throws in that extra push that nudges the final product into the state of being rewarding is the handling of the substance, which is, of course, arguably the most mishandled aspect within the film, though not so much so that Helander doesn't cut through the meanderings just enough to get you invested in the characters and happenings, thus resulting in consistent intrigue, broken up by genuine tension that may be subdued a bit by its being built around absurdist danger, yet is pronounced enough to get you to the edge of your seat, particularly invested in the story, thin and both intentionally and unintentionally messily mishandled though, it may be. Really, if nothing else, the film is just fun, with striking charm - intensified by much in the way of convincingness and charisma within the cast - that wins you over to the film, even with all of the shortcomings. Sure, the film is flawed and has only so much to it to begin with, and these two factors leave the final product to play with underwhelmingness, but not to where compensation is kept at bay, ensuing with enough potency to craft a charming piece of entertainment that genuinely rewards as a strong piece.
Bottom line, limited self-awareness dilutes the full effectiveness and evenness of humor, while limited self-seriousness both dilutes full investment and emphasizes such storytelling missteps as conventionalism and plot thinness, exacerbated by many a meandering point that threatens to drive the film into underwhelmingness, but doesn't quite make it, going battled back by fine score work and cinematography that compliment livliness within a nifty story concept, brough to life by director Jalamari Helander's entertaining and intriguing storytelling, and complimented by the considerable charm within both atmosphere and performances that goes into making "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale" an ultimately thorough entertainer that hits much more often than not and leaves you more rewarded than you'd expect.
3/5 - Good