Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

explores the

dark side of the Santa Claus myth - if myth he is - and finds humor, and horror, lurking there.

Set in the breathtaking alpine ranges of northern Finland, writer-director Jalmari Helander's wicked yuletide fable starts with two kids sneaking around a top-secret archaeological dig. There is something, or someone, way down in the bowels of the earth, encased in wood and a massive block of ice. And there are hundreds of dead reindeer strewn across the fields nearby, mauled and bloodied, as if a horde of wolves had attacked. What's going on here?

Only wide-eyed Pietari (Onni Tommila), a boy whose father runs a slaughterhouse, seems to know.

Inspired by the lore of the demonic, horned counterpart to St. Nick - the Krampus - Rare Exports is a spooky adventure in which a band of blundering Finlandian men (no women here, it seems) run around with guns while the excavation's crew go missing, and then the children go missing, too.

It's not a matter of who's been naughty and who's been nice - just about everyone seems to be prey.

Never mind the pint-sized protagonist: Rare Exports - a tongue-in-cheek meditation on pagan fairy tales and their cultural resonances - isn't really suitable for younger filmgoers: Hacked-up body parts (animal and human), a cascade of profanity, and the sight of an army of naked, wizened men moving like zombies across the snowscape - this Santa Claus story is for a midnight movie crowd, not the kiddie matinees.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Jalmari Helander. With Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Ilmari Jarvenpaa, and Christian Ellefsen. In English, and in Finnish with subtitles. Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, nudity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the BourseEndText

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/ onmovies/