Based on his own series of popular-on-the-Internet short films, Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale creates something of a new origin story for Santa Claus—or, rather, reintroduces with dark glee some of the original pagan myths long glossed over by the market forces behind what a character sneeringly calls the "The Coca-Cola Santa." When a mysterious businessman looks to unearth the original Claus, buried underneath a remote mountain, only to have his plan discovered by a particularly motivated little boy, a chain of events is set in motion that includes blackmail, helicopters, secret warehouses, explosions, an army of nude old men, and the legend of spanking children until their skin falls off. At times, it's easier to like the idea of Helander's film than actually to like the film itself. And yet his knack for reinvention—adding to the story, reorienting who is doing what to whom—is so winning that Rare Exports moves with a swiftness and certainty that almost doesn't allow for boredom or dissatisfaction. Even with its darker undercurrents, the film is surprisingly sweet: In its own way, it never stops believing in Santa Claus, and by ultimately revealing itself as a boy's adventure story, it actually celebrates the youthful, innocent exuberance of holding onto that faith. It's likely the best anti-Christmas Christmas movie since Bad Santa.
Director Helander explores the dark side of Santa.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., Dec. 10. Not rated. 80 minutes.