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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale review

The subverted-santa genre isn’t a stuffed stocking of hits.

Bad Santa was a hoot, sure; 2005’s silly Santa’s Slay not so much.

Enter Finnish director Jalmari Helander’s blackly comic feature debut, which topples sacred reindeers with a smart balance of heart, humour and semi-horror, to emerge as the demi-genre’s first cult classic.

Pitched between Raiders and The Thing, the opening sees a drilling expedition discover an ice block 500m down. Could it contain the real Claus, a child-munching devil?

Once it’s unearthed, bodies mount. sacks, radiators then nippers vanish, the latter replaced in their beds with dolls...

Death has come to this little town – but Exports isn’t mere horror fodder. With only a non-sentimentalised boy (the excellent Onni Tommila) savvy to what’s going on, ’80s-vintage Joe Dante and Spielberg are the reference points.

The kid’s home life recalls the broken family in E.T.; later, gruff men struggle to be nurturing in a sly ’berg nod. It’s testament to Helander’s talent that comparisons don’t dwarf him, the director nailing the right equation of cheek and twisted fairytale chills.

The climax suffers from budgetary constraints, the stretched plot giving away the film’s beginnings as a short. But who cares when you see kids swinging in a net under a chopper chased by axe-flinging codgers? The coda’s images are more mischievous still, adding tinsel to a rare export indeed.

We wanted it to be good and it is. Both warm and chilly on top, Helander’s well-mounted black comedy puts a devilish spin on movie Santas.

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