Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Films of 2018: The Predator

The big question about Shane Black's The Predator (2018) is simply: how can a film featuring so many good ideas be executed so poorly?

This is one of those movies, not entirely unlike Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant (2017), that brims with ingenuity and invention, but ends up feeling like little more than a missed opportunity.

The Predator features more than a half-dozen great and imaginative concepts, and yet the movie is scuttled by terrible performances, bad pacing, and underwhelming action scenes. The last Predator film, Predators (2010) is an absolute masterpiece by comparison.  

Predators also possessed some radical ingenuity in the way it introduced new concepts to the franchise (like Predator dogs, or a Predator nature preserve), but it managed, more importantly, to present a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride. That film was exciting and suspenseful.

The Predator is grievously short on momentum and thrills, and feels like a cartoon version of the franchise material. In the end, it is little more than a bad action film with a legacy title, despite the innovative ideas it introduces (and then drops). 

In short, The Predator is insulting to the inelligence, and ultimately nohting more than a string of mildly interesting moments.

"You want to know if someone fucked an alien?"

An American sniper, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) sees a hostage rescue mission for the U.S. military go awry when a spaceschip crashes nearby, depositing an alien predator at the scene. 

McKenna is able to get his hands on some of the alien's technology, including weaponry and a personal cloaking device, and he has the material shipped back to his home.  Unfortunately, the predator helmet and weapon's gauntlet end up in the possession of his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who has Asperger's Syndrome. The boy begins to experiment with and control the devices as Halloween nears.

Meanwhile, Dr. Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn) is summoned to Project Stargazer to examine the captured Predator. The alien quickly murders many of the scientists, and escapes the premises. This spurs Traeger (Sterling Brown), the man in charge off the project, to launch a man -- alien? -- hunt.

With his story of aliens discredited by his own command structure, Quinn is arrested by the military, and he joins up with a team of so-called "loonies," soldiers who have also fallen out of favor with the U.S. government.  Quinn also teams up with Brackett and the loonies to save his son, who is now the target of the Predator.  

But the Predator is being hunted too, by an "upgrade" from his own world, a mega-predator who wishes to prevent the alien from giving humanity a great gift.

"Would you like to meet a predator?"

It may take a while to unpack the preceding film synopsis, but hopefully one can detect some of the film's cleverness from a general description of the narrative.  But, I'd like to spell out a bit more of it, breaking down that ingenuity into diffferent categories.

First, of course, there's the fan service. Jake Busey, for instance, plays Sean Keys in The Predator, son of Gary Busey's character from Predator 2 (1990). Secondly, in the Stargazer laboratory the makeshift alien sphere created by a Predator and used by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) in AVP (2004) is seen.  Similarly, predator incursions in 1987 and 1997 are mentioned by name, as is a Lawrence Gordon Middle School. 

A bit more intriguing are the film's unique and clever retcons.  In previous Predator films, viewers witnessed the aliens ripping out, and taking as trophies, human spinal cords.  As it turns out, this violent behavior is not merely for trophy-keeping after all, but an attempt to take the DNA of the best and most capable fighters.

It turns out, the Predators are constantly upgrading hemselves, and they hunt not just for sport, but to improve their species. 

Another retcon: the temperature plays a crucial role in this narrative. Predator (1987) and Predator 2 (1990) established that Predators only visit Earth during the hottest years. The Predator goes further, noting that the visits are becoming more frequent because of global warming, and that the Predators may be taking human DNA to preserve humanities as a species before we annihilate ourselves. Once momre, established lore is re-purposed in a fresh way.

In terms of dramatic structure and characters, The Predator makes for a fascinating book-end to the 1987 John McTiernan original. In that film, Arnie's Dutch and his team were lionized as the greatest warriors/soldiers on the planet. The film concerned a "band of brothers" in a sense, and that band was unified through its capabilities.

The Predator travels all the way to the other extreme, teaming the capable McKenna with a band of "loonies," who have been forsaken by the military. These soldiers are the disowned, the derided, the downgraded, and the forgotten of the U.S. military.  Yet they achieve redemption by the climax, and prove just as loyal to McKenna as Dutch's team proved to him. The two teams actually make for intriguing mirror images. In both teams, for instance, there is a characer who tells foul dirty jokes. Taken together, Predator and The Predator offer an intriguing commentary on what it means to be a soldier, at both ends of the spectrum, feted, or despised.  This also seems a commentary on our times, when conformity is praised. Here, the heroes are diverse, yet valuable.

In terms of homage, the first scene in The Predator recalls virtualy every creative element of the '87 film. There's a soldier, a jungle, a helicopter, an invisible alien, green blood, and even a skinned human being.  There's even a terrestrial missio gone wrong. This short introductory scene gathers all the elements that made the first film in the franchise so successful, and utililzes them as the starting point for this sequel. Again, the set-up suggests intelligence and cleverness that the rest of the film simply fails to build on.

There are other positive points to write about regarding The Predator. The film boasts a great sense of humor, at least when it isn't relying on off-color jokes. For instance, there is a running gag here about the name off the aliens. Dr. Brackett doesn't like that they have been termed "predators," instead of sport-hunters, and this point gets made more than once. In essence, the characters are noting that the very name of the franchise is ill-conceived.

And, of course, the final battle showcases some ingenuity in terms of how it deploys Predator technology. In particular, make certain never to get in the way of a Predator force-field that is about to activate.

Some critics have compained about he film's other new wrinkle, that the Predators view autism/Asperger's as an upgrade of humanity, not a condition to be corrected.  This commentary may or may not be ill-considered, or insensitive, but the theme certainly adds another wrinkle to the mythos. At the very least, the idea suggests that Shane Black was attempting to think about this "old" franchise in a new and ambitious way. And, again, in terms of reality, it is good to see a character with Asperger's (or Tourette Syndrom, for that matter) treated as more than a condition, but as a person with feelings, relationships, and intrinsic value. 

Above, I rattled off a whole bunch of things about The Predator that I liked, and that are laudable. And yet, the film doesn't often transmit as smart, or intellectual, but rather as straight-up stupid. I understand that the 1987 was simplistic, but that doesn't make it stupid. Instead, there was a fun sort of gamesmanship to that film, as it set up the ultimate contest between an alien hunter, and a human soldier, played by Arnold.  Ultimately, that battle took center stage, as each combatant was stripped of technology, and forced to rely on instincts and abilities.

The 2018 edition of the franchise boasts nothing comparable. It just careens from one interesting idea to the next in the most hamhanded, rudimentary fashion.

In fact, the plot doesn't hold up well at all.  For instance, the "regular" Predator is apparently on humanity's side, and is resisting the other Predators and their DNA program. This predator brings a gift to Earth to save humanity.  Yet, when this alien wakes up at Project Stargazer, the predator indulges in a bloody massacre of scientists and soldiers, brutally murdering virtually everyone in a laboratory. 

Why would he do this, after bringing a gift to humanity?  Wouldn't he want to tell them what he has brought the people of the Earth?

It's not a problem with communication, either, as some may suggest.  As the film reveals later on, the Predator boasts a kind of universal translator technollogy, and it can translate the alien language to English. So why would the predator go on a killing spree if the intent is to give humanity a gift?  This makes no sense.

Secondly, why would Traeger not see the value of having a highly decorated sniper on his team? He is a smart guy, yet his downfall is caused by his horrible treatment of McKenna and his son.  Why not bring McKenna into the fold, since he now knows about the existence of the aliens and alien technology? If Trager is as smart as he thinks he is, he would certainly know to recruit a decorated sniper.  (Just imagine if McKenna had been present in the lab when the predator went apeship. Fewer people would have died.)

The film boasts other problems as well, such as the fate of (a terribly-rendered) CGI predator dog. It gets locked in the back of a truck during the final batttle, but there is no follow-up about what happens to it next.

Overall, the film also seems to highlight more (misguided) man-vs-man action, than man vs. alien battling.  Soldiers fight each other at the drop of a hat, in one underwhelming stand-off after another.  Perhaps these moments could have felt more natural or organic, but the cast doesn't do well with the mock heroic/threatening dialogue.

Thomas Jane is wasted in the film, and Olivia Munn looks as though she wandered in from the latest Sy Fy Channel monster movie, failing to supply her character much charm, or intelligence, or eve humanity. The same could be said for Holbrook. Brown is wasted too, in a one-dimensional villain role. Every character is a one-note personality.

I have enjoyed, with caveats, every Predator movie between 1987 and 2018, at least enough to give each entry a positive review (save for the atrocious crossover, AVPR, in 2007). This dynamic changes with The Predator, a film I feel no more than intermittent appreciation for. Overall it is an insult to the legacy of this sturdy franchise.

In short, I agree with Brackett's cutting dismissal of the alien organism: "Not my space-animal."

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pop Art: The Fall Guy Dynomite Magazine

Halloween Costume of the Week: The Fall Guy (Ben Cooper)

The Fall Guy Magic Transfers

Model Kit of the Week: The Fall Guy (Airfix)

Lunch Box of the Week: The Fall Guy

Pop Art: The Fall Guy Annual

Board Game of the Week: The Fall Guy (Milton Bradley)

The Films of 2018: The Nun

In the prologue for The Nun (2018), the latest entry in the popular The Conjur-verse, the camera lands on the image of a crucifix hanging on a wall inside a haunted abbey in Romania. 

With a rote, almost mechanical motion -- like the hands on a clock -- this cruficix methodically "ticks" over into the upside down position.

An upside down crucifix is a familiar image in horror films, of course, but the oddly automatic nature of the pivoting crucifix here suggests, at least to this reviewer, the idea of a franchise on remote control, mechanically moving from one formulaic moment to the next. Even the presence of Evil in this cinematic world is, by now, familiar, and automatic.

Alas, the rest of the film lives up to the prophecy of the mechanical crucifix, proving dull, robotic and nonsensical. Nothing makes any sense in the movie, and the demonic nun's powers are so incredible annd fearsome that it becames clear to the viewer, after one particular fantasy scene, that there is no way the nun can be defeated.  It obeys no consistent set of rules.

Of all the films in the Conjuring universe, The Nun is the least satisying, at least so far.

"It's something unholy!"

In St. Corta Abbey in Romania, in 1952, two nuns attempt to stop the demonic entity locked behind a wood door (and behind a carving, which reads "God Ends Here."). The attempt fails, and one desperate nun hangs herself, rather than becoming possessed by the dark evil lurking in the shadows.

To help solve the mystery of this apparent suicide, the Vatican sends a "miracle hunter" priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Fermiga) to Romania to investigate. A French-Canadian guide, "Frenchie" (Jonas Bloquet) agrees, only reluctantly to take them, to the haunted grounds. The abbey itself is surrounded by crucifixes, as if to keep an unholy evil locked inside.

The ruined, dilipidated abbey holds many dark secrets, not the least of which is the presence of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), a demon who prefers to take the form of a nun with a ghostly pallor.  Using a relic that holds the blood of Christ, Father Burke, Sister Irene, and Frenchie attempt to defeat the demon once and for all, and close a gateway to Hell.

"You have a knack for this, sister."

Despite its problems in believability and consistency, The Nun earns points for its gloomy, claustrophobic nature. The film is unrelentingly dark, and the overall impression created is that the film's central location, the Romanian abbey, is a place where darkness has eclipsed all light. 

The oppressive vibe is a perfect way to express the film's horror elements, but The Nun is frequently dull, its boredom quotient punctuated only by some (admittedly) impressive jump scares. The film's greatest trespass, however, involves its villainous characer, the titular nun, or as we already know it, Valak the Demon.  

If we are to believe our eyes, this creature possesses the fearsome abililty to rewrite reality itself. It is thus not a demon, but a god.

In one scene, for example, Valak tricks Burke into a graveyard, and uses some unseen force to push the priest into an open grave. Burke falls into the hole, which transmutes into a sealed coffin. Then, Valak not only traps the priest under six feet of dirt -- which appear from nowhere -- but under perfectly grown grass as well. Valak than erects a personalized tombstone (replete with carving) over the grave for Burke.  

This sequence is not a dream, or an hallucination. It actually happens. 

Again, the demon uses an invisible force (telekinesis?) to push its enemy into that hole. It then uses some unknown mechanism to nail shut the wooden coffin (replete with a top, which wasn't there before, either). Next, the demon puts in the pounds of dirt to pack the grave, grows the green grass over the plot, creates a tombsone from whole cloth, andm finally, etches that tombstone with Burke's name. 

I stress these details, because this is a re-ordering of our reality on a fantastic scale.

Yet, during the rest of the movie, when Valak attacks main characters, the demon does so by physically choking them.  So Valak: why not re-arrange reality again instead of going to all the trouble of actually wringing a human being's neck? 

Unfortunately, the aforementioned graveyard scene pretty much ruins any sense of reality The Nun attempts to create.  

First, the scene makes no sense, even if it is something Valak is capable of doing.  

Why, for example, would Valak carve Burke's name on the tombstone, if the demon doesn't wish for Irene to rescue him? Burke attempts to ring a bell attached to the grave, to prove he is buried alive to his young assistant, and Valak vexes Irene by ringing all such similar bells in the graveyard, so she can't locate Burke's grave.

Okay, but you know what else would have made the priest hard to find?  A tombstone that didn't have his name etched on it.

Secondly, since Valak can transport, re-arrange and create matter out of nothing, why does a wooden door stop it from wreaking havoc in the first place?  Based on the demon's powers, as diagrammed in the graveyard scene, Valak could just "unwrite" the very existence of the door. 

Why does Valak stay in the abbey? Again, based on the incredible powers on display in the cemetery scene, the demon could just relocate the abbey, through time and space, wherever it wished to go.

Finally, why does the blood of Christ stop Valak? Valak could just re-arrange matter, and use a kind of demon wind to keep the blood from splattering the Nun's face.  

(And, let's face it, the blood of Christ, the movie's get-out-of-hell-free card, doesn't do its job anyway, since Valak doesn't die from it , but merely possesses another character).

The long and short of this discussion is that once The Nun gets to the wholly fantastical (and, sadly, wholly unnecessary) scene of Valak creating a "buried alive" moment for Father Burke, it never recovers any sense of reality. The graveyard scene is a jump-the-shark, nuke-the-fridge moment that the movie never overcomes.

This is a horror movie in which the monster can do anything it wishes, and is, therefore, utterly invincible. The heroes, accordingly, are no match for it. To suggest otherwise is bullshit, and the movie knows it. Any plans the characters come up with to handle their plight pale before the ability to re-arrange and create matter.

Also, Valak isn't scary in The Nun.  Valak was scary in The Conjuring 2, by contrast, but is not fiflmed in such a way here as to be particularly terrifying or monstrous. The film is like a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel where you know what Freddy looks like, and so aren't terrified by him anymore. 

But Freddy had a personality and a sense of humor. 

Valak has neither.

Adding insult to injury, the film's final scenes strain to connect this film to The Conjuring, wrapping up everything in a neat little bow for the dullards among us who couldn't keep track.  Because, the last note viewers should always leave a horror film on is this: REMEMBER, THIS IS A FRANCHISE!!!!

Snark aside, The Conjuring franchise has demonstrated a remarkable ability to self-diagnose, and course correct. The Conjuring 2 was superior to The Conjuring, and Annabelle: Creation was better than its progenitor, Annabelle. Perhaps The Nun can fit into this pattern as well. The film made more than enough money at the box office to guarantee a sequel, so now the filmmakers simply have to find a story worth telling, and one that features a scary monster with coherent and graspable powers.

"What's the opposite of a miracle?" One character asks another in The Nun.  

My answer? 

The fact that The Nun had so much good will from viewers, reviewers, and franchise fans, going in, and then completely squandered it with this meandering, incoherent, mechanical narrative.  

Theme Song of the Week: The Fall Guy (1982)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Krampus (2015)

For horror movie lovers, Michael Dougherty’s Krampus (2015) is a holiday present wrapped up with a bow. 

It’s a delightful, caustic, emotionally-resonant horror movie that feels like a throwback to a bygone era. It’s a (most welcome…) relic from age when audiences more easily or readily allowed fantasy and humor to inform the genre.

Of course, the great arc of movie history involves a push away from the theatrical and artificial towards the naturalistic and realistic.

I don’t waste too much thought mourning this shift in my favorite genre, and I enjoy many modern horror movies tremendously. And yet, at the same time I cannot help but note that so many are, well, humorless, or lacking real imagination.   The genre I grew up with took fantasy and imagination as the starting point.

Today, too many new horror films feel that they must justify their realism, instead of entertaining us with fantasy, laughs, and screams too.

Not so with Krampus.

The film feels very much like a throwback to the era of Gremlins (1984), for example, with its commentary on Christmas, and its quasi-comedic monsters.  The demonic helpers in this film -- who count ambulatory gingerbread men among their number -- straddle the line between terror and comedy quite adroitly.

For about ninety percent of the film, Krampus is also delightfully cutthroat and vicious, in much the same way that one would apply that descriptor to Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971).  

Bad children and bad adults get punished for their nasty behavior, and there’s no looking back or second guessing their grim fates.  One mean-spirited kid who guzzles soda from the bottle at a holiday dinner table gets lured up the chimney by a gingerbread cookie, and then dragged off to the underworld in chains.

It’s true that Krampus’s conclusion backs away from this delightfully mean-spirited approach a little bit, but then, delightfully, the film reconsiders the walk-back in favor of an ambiguous ending that could be read in a number of ways.

I suppose what impressed me most about Krampus was its perpetual sense of imagination. A central scene in the film is a spectacularly shot-and-edited but unconventional flashback.  This scene plays like a Christmas TV special from the 1960s, and yet is spooky and fun at the same time.

On a cerebral level, Krampus also clearly boasts a point or purpose. The film’s opening montage and characters remind us that we often live, today, in an ugly, materialistic culture. And yet, by film’s end, Krampus’s protagonists are all putting their differences and material desires aside for the things that are important -- like family -- and I liked the optimism and heart of that statement.

A visit from Krampus could clearly spoil any holiday season, but this cinematic version of the scary myth is an absolute cause of celebration and revelry if one is an aficionado of the horror film.

“It’s Christmas. Nothing bad is going to happen on Christmas.”

The Engel family prepares for another harried, exhausted Christmas holiday at home.  

Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah’s (Toni Collette) son, Max (Emjay Anthony), has been in a fight, and Sarah’s sister, Linda (Alison Tolman) is visiting with her obnoxious husband, Howie (David Koecher) and their four children.  Meanwhile, Tom and Linda’s daughter, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) is obsessed with her boyfriend, Derek.

Linda’s family arrives, and with a surprise additional visitor to boot: surly Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell). A family dinner goes awry when Linda’s kids steal Max’s letter to Santa Claus and mock him for it.

Fed up, Max rips up the letter to Santa, unwittingly summoning St. Nick’s dark, ancient reflection, a demon called Krampus.

The next morning, Krampus has trapped the family and its house in a grim winter wonderland, replete with creepy snowmen.  

Then, the evil being lays siege to the house with his monstrous minions. Among them are fanged teddy bears, murderous toy robots, cackling gingerbread men, and even a hungry jack-in-the-box.

Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s mother, has her own unique history with Krampus, and is able to warn the family of the dangers it now faces.  

She recounts a story from her youth, one in which a lack of the Christmas Spirit brought Kramus to her village, and resulted in her entire family being dragged to the underworld.

“He and his helpers did no come to give, but to take.”

Krampus’s critique of a 21st century Christmas begins right out the gate, with the opening montage. 

We watch as zombie-like crowds pour into a store -- Mucho Mart -- and begin fighting each other over the best deals.  There is rioting in the aisles, the constant passing of paper currency (in close-up) and views of children fighting in the store. The faces of the consumers are horrific, seen in close-up, and in slow-motion photography.  

The impression is clearly that Christmas has, in this age, become a crass and ugly season about the pursuit of material wants.

What makes this montage all the more caustic and effective is that it is scored with a nostalgic holiday tune: Meredith Wilson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” sung by Perry Como.  

The song hammers home the scene's point. It makes the scene drip with droll and wicked irony.

Today, this is exactly what Christmas does look like to too many people.  It’s about having things; about getting things, about owning things.  

It’s not about, in the words of Omi, “sacrificing,” or giving to others. 

Not long after this montage, we see talking heads on TV debating the “War on Christmas,” another divisive aspect of the modern holiday.  The spirit of the holiday -- about giving and love -- is absent not just in terms of the violence and material desire the film showcases, but regarding the hostility with which we view those who are different from us.  We're all Americans, and yet we seem to hate one another. We can't even tolerate that someone might celebrate the holiday in a different way than we do.

That’s actually a key point of the film.  

The two sisters in Krampus, Sarah and Linda, come from opposite political views. Howie and Linda are Republicans who want to talk gun ownership at the dinner table, deny global warming, and who, when faced with “free gifts,” say that the recipients must be for “Democrats.”  

Sarah, by contrast is a somewhat holier-than-thou liberal, and one who can’t really tolerate the fact that others boast different traditions (in terms of food and behavior)

All the details of our red state/blue state divides are on display in Krampus, but I love the movie’s process of (murderous) attrition, because it galvanizes the attention of both families.  

Before long, the conservatives and liberals are working together to survive.  

The inescapable point? It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, Krampus notes, because both types of Americans love their families, and want to protect their children. Part of “rediscovering” the Christmas spirit involves loving those who don’t believe exactly what you believe, and yet, finally, are your blood.

There’s nothing to focus one’s attention on the important thing like a giant, horned demon with a Santa beard and penetrating, deep-set eyes. 

I love and admire the film’s depiction of Krampus too. There’s a fantastic shot, set during a blizzard, wherein Beth runs for her life in the foreground of the frame while Krampus -- this huge hulking thing -- shadows her moves in the background, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.  

And when Krampus makes his entrance at the Engel hearth, he cracks the fireplace, and emerges hunched over. When he rears up and extends to full height, it’s a terrifying moment. Krampus is one scary dude.

I respect, as well, the way that Krampus attempts to defy convention by engineering awful demises for the film’s children and family members. 

A jack in the box swallows a child whole (sneakers last…).  

The aforementioned soda guzzler gets yanked up a dark chimney.  

Aunt Dorothy encounters a pack of gruesome, masked elves and is forcibly ejected from the family living room..  The film and filmmakers have terrific fun with the twisted Christmas imagery, and the deeply disturbing winter wonderland background too.

Some will see the film’s resolution -- set over the pit of Hell -- as a cop-out.  I admit that was my first thought, as well.  

But the film’s final imagery suggest a not-so happy or clear-cut ending.  

Either the family is now a Christmas decoration in Hell, or at the very least, Krampus will be watching the Engels to make certain they remain true to the spirit of Christmas, and don’t relapse into their conspicuous consumption or participation in the partisan divide.

I prefer the second alternative there, because it honors Max’s choice in the last act. 

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the lad acts according to the best “spirit” of Christmas, showcasing self-sacrifice and personal responsibility for his actions.  He doesn’t blame others for his unhappiness, or love things more than he loves the people in his family.  To adopt a cliche, he comes to understand the real meaning of Christmas.

When I look back at a film like Gremlins (1984), I think of the humor, the scares, and the heart embodied in its text.  

Krampus possesses all the same virtues.  

The scenes with the attacking Gingerbread Men boast the same wicked ingenuity you might expect to find in the works of a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi. I’m glad the film doesn’t strive too much to be “real,” and makes room for such silly boogeymen.

For me, Krampus is the whole, twisted horror package, and I loved every sharp-edged, fantastic minute of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rare Exports (2010)

Santa Claus begins his yearly Christmas Eve journey before too long, and so it seems like an ideal time to remember a modern holiday-themed horror movie that I’ve come to consider a new classic: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010).

Like the best holiday-themed horror films, Rare Exports makes the most out of its premise by juxtaposing the “good tidings” and happy vibes of the holiday season with a far more cynical and sinister reality. 

In this case, the horror in the scenario arises from the presence of an ancient Santa Claus demon, but also the fact that his arrival has caused economic blues for the film’s central family. That family, already dealing with grief, contends with a financial setback that could adversely impact it for a year.

This economic element of the narrative is crucial to the film’s success, and an acknowledgement of the fact that Christmas holiday has become tied, perhaps irrevocably, to commerce and capitalism.

Without enough money to spend, is a Merry Christmas even possible in this day and age?

Rare Exports also functions as a quirky coming of age tale, at least of sorts. The film’s young hero, Pietari, can no longer close his eyes to the reality of his life (or his father’s profession as a butcher). 

Similarly, Pietari forcibly has his young eyes opened to the true nature of Santa Claus as a monster that dispenses not gifts, but punishment for naughty children. Therefore, the Christmas holiday depicted in this Finnish film from Jalmari Helander is not one in which Pietari gets to remain a kid, but one in which he earns his father’s respect as an adult.

Although all of this analysis undoubtedly makes Rare Exports sound like a weighty polemic, the film is light on its feet, and extremely funny, too. The film’s horror is real, but leavened by the comedic elements.

The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax.”

A mining company working in the Korvotunturi Mountains in Finland discovers evidence of something buried deep within one rocky outcropping. Dynamite is utilized to blow up the mountain, but the explosion releases an ancient horror…the real Santa Claus.

In this case, Santa Claus is a giant horned demon, tended to by an army of mindless elves, really filthy, naked old men with long beards. These are Santa's Helpers.

A boy, Pietari (Onni Tommila) who lives with his father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila) suspects the truth; that a monster has been unloosed in town. Pietari is unable to convince his father of this fact, however, until after discovering that a herd of valuable reindeer have been massacred…and fed upon.  

When one of “Santa’s Helpers” is captured, Rauno realizes that his son’s story is true, and that a dark force has infiltrated the town.

But it may be too late to stop Santa. All the children of the town -- save for Pietari --- have disappeared and been replaced with creepy straw dolls.  

Now, Pietari and Rauno must save the children, destroy Santa, and stop the onslaught of Santa’s helpers.

“Close your eyes, son. Daddy’s working.”

One delightful aspect of Rare Exports is that it plays like a seasonal (and satirical) version of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Specifically, something ancient and awful is awakened from a long slumber beneath the Earth’s surface, only to go on a reign of terror.  In both situations, the monster emerges (or nearly emerges) from a block of ice.

If The Thing shattered all of our happy illusions about friendly aliens in the summer of E.T. (1982), Rare Exports works to similar ends regarding Santa Claus, drawing on the character’s ancient origins as a figure of menace and mischief.

As Pietari learns from his research (a book called The Truth about Santa Claus), The Coca-Cola Santa is a figure of rational, capitalist modernity, a figure designed to sell products. 

The truth, according to the film, however, is that Santa is something much more sinister; something that possesses a hatred for children and takes glee not in rewarding them, but in hurting them.

All the children in the town are abducted by Santa’s minions, which means that all have been classified as “naughty.”  Pietari realizes that he too is vulnerable, or naughty (because of his actions cutting open a fence near the mountain).  By recognizing his own bad behavior, Pietari also realizes a human truth.  

There isn’t one of us who isn’t naughty occasionally, at least by Santa’s standards.

And that means Santa’s “nice” and “naughty” list is a swindle. There is no nice list. 

Again, this is a crucial piece of Pietari’s coming of age; his viewing of the world in an adult, or mature way, separated from the fantasy and simple-mindedness of fairy tales.

Pietari’s distinctly un-romantic discovery of the truth is mirrored by the film’s unromantic approach to traditional Christmas symbolism. 

A beautiful field of snow is marred by the carcasses of 433 massacred reindeer, for example.  When the dead animals are first seen, one of Rauno’s co-workers notes, cynically “Merry Christmas.”  

He is upset, however, not because the beautiful animals – which in mythology pull Santa’s sleigh -- are dead.  No, he is upset because “85,000 dollars” of merchandise have “rotted away.”  The butcher and his co-workers were going to sell reindeer meat for the holidays. Now their livelihood is threatened.

Pietari, who has closed his eyes to what his father does -- working as a butcher -- opens his eyes to everything in the film. He opens his eyes to economic realities, and the reality of Santa Claus as a monster.  He sees that the “whole Christmas thing” is “just a bluff” to enforce good behavior on the part of children. He takes responsibility for himself, for his father, and for ending the threat posed by Santa Claus.

Accordingly, on Christmas day, Pietari grows up. 

He fights to save his fellow children, blow Santa Claus to kingdom come, and harness the minions of the demons as an economic boon to his family. These minions are trained to be “Coca Cola” Santas and shipped, world-wide, to serve happy children.  

It is no coincidence that the barn holding the giant demon, Santa, is marked in the same way that Pietari’s holiday advent calendar is. But on the final day of the holiday -- on Christmas Day -- Pietari does not open presents like a child would. Rather his gift is his ability to perceive the “truth” of the world.

He has opened not a sickly-sweet, sentimental token of childhood. He has opened up the responsibilities of maturity.

Rare Exports is a delightful film, with some moments of extreme violence. For the most part, however, the horror is merely suggested through its aftermath. The field of dead reindeer is one example, and the wolf pit trap (which snares a minion) is another.  

Although we never see Santa in action since he is locked in a block of ice, the early sections of the film -- which recount the ancient legends -- do a terrific job of instilling fear not only in Pietari, but in the audience too.

A great Christmas horror film like Krampus (2015), Gremlins (1984) or Rare Exports (2010) -- succeeds because it punches holes through the mythology of the Christmas season, and sees another truth instead, about the nature of the holiday in the modern era. 

Rare Exports is so much fun, so sharp in its observations and humor about this most beloved of holidays that it is anything but the proverbial lump of coal in the stocking.

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