20. Rare Exports (2010), dir. Jalmari Helander
This one is Finnish, and set amongst a far-north mountain community whose economic subsistence depends on trapping reindeer. These are people who go round with hunting-rifles permanently slung over their backs, who build wolf-pits in their back yards and for whom the death of a herd of reindeer is a total catastrophe. There isn't a single woman in the film, not even as a background character, which is a little weird, but although that is the kind of thing I certainly notice and which would often completely wreck a film for me, in this case it wasn't as alienating as it might be. I think they get away with it because the story is strongly focused on a child, Pietari, whose coming-of-age story it essentially is. He's the vulnerable character in the film, who can't yet ride a snow-mobile or use a hunting-rifle like his slightly older friend Juuso, and who carries a soft toy with him everywhere he goes. So he provides the audience-identification character who gets scared and needs to be protected, which is often the role of women in horror films. And in his community, the process of growing up involves learning to take on the kind of physical, visceral work in tough conditions which his father and his friends do, so that's the main kind of role-model for him which we need to see and get to know. Nonetheless, it is just odd to sketch out a community with no women at all in it, even in the toughest of conditions, and even if we accept the absence of Pietari's own mother who has conveniently died before the story begins so that we can focus on him and his father trying to understand each other instead.
Anyway, Pietari's childlike perspective is crucial to the narrative, because he is of an age where he still sees the world through a lens of story and fantasy, and thus he helps us to accept events and beings which would otherwise come across as outlandish and implausible. The main storyline is basically a joke, though played entirely straight throughout, involving a mining operation which releases a long-imprisoned and frozen primeval horned Santa-figure plus a whole load of vicious, feral elves, to which the mountain community's response is basically to blow up Santa and switch from herding reindeer to herding and exporting the elves. This is obviously very silly, and indeed was developed from two horror shorts (which I haven't seen but will shortly track down) along the same lines. But because Pietari is the kind of bookish child who basically believes in elves and Santa, and stays up all night early in the film reading about Santa's ancient folkloric roots, his immediate grasp of what is happening carries both the community around him and the audience through.
There is a bit of an eco-horror element to it, in that the mining operation involves destroying part of the local landscape, is financed by a rich greedy foreigner (who deliberately designed the operation to exhume Santa, and therefore is meddling with things which should be left undisturbed), and leads directly to the entire local reindeer population being mauled to death - the community initially assume by wolves, but given what we learn later about the elves I suspect we're supposed to realise it was actually them. There's also an interestingly disturbing scene towards the end in which they hose down and train up their now-captive elves so that they can be sold on as 'Santas' for children's grottoes across the world (the rare exports of the title). This felt like it might have been trying to say something about either people-trafficking or the way animals are treated in the context of the meat industry, and because the audience have been conditioned to identify strongly with the mountain community by the time we see it, I at least felt quite uncomfortable about my own sense of complicity in what they were doing.
But I really appreciated content on that level in what is basically otherwise a fun romp. Pietari gets his moment of heroism, combining everything he's learnt from his books with some courage and physical action by taking the lead on luring all the elves into the reindeer-herding pen. He is even willing to sacrifice his own life in order to pull it off and make sure the community and all the other children are safe in the process - though he doesn't actually die, because Santa is destroyed just as the elves might have turned on him, so the spell is broken and they are left as rather confused and basically harmless old men. He earns his Dad's respect, and restores his community's livelihood by putting them in a position to sell off the elves at the price of the entire lost reindeer herd a pop. A nice, Christmassy feel-good ending.
21. 30 Days of Night (2007), dir. David Slade
This one is American, and took us to an Alaskan oil-mining town which experiences a month without sunlight in the depths of winter. The story-line involves a bunch of vampires realising what a great opportunity this is for them, and stalking the streets of the town while an ever-shrinking group of traumatised humans try to hide from them.
I had fairly high hopes, but ended up a bit disappointed. This is probably partly for the technical reason that I could barely make out a single word most of the adult male characters said due to a bad case of low-pitched whispering syndrome, but I think it was also just a fairly standard pick-em-off movie which simply didn't develop most of its characters very effectively or do much to try to explain why they repeatedly need to break cover from one hiding-place to another or how they cope with the basic needs of food, sleep etc. during the course of their ordeal. If it hadn't been for on-screen captions periodically announcing that it was 'Day 18' or whatever, it would have seemed like the whole story unfolded over the course of a single, ordinary night, which rather undermines the main supposed premise of the film.
To be fair, some effort had been put into realising the vampires. They have their own language, which was constructed especially for the film, and are properly feral and violent-looking in both their appearance and their manner of killing (a lot like Eli's in Let the Right One In). And although the trope of having the main male and female leads be an estranged husband and wife who rediscover their feelings for each other over the course of the film is a fairly tired one, their ending was at least a little bit different. With sunrise due shortly and the vampires torching the town to cover their tracks, he realises that the only way he can rescue his ex-wife and a random tug-the-heartstrings child who are hiding beneath a jeep is to become like the vampires himself. So he deliberately injects himself with blood from a vampire they have decapitated and fights off the main pack while still retaining enough of his humanity to do so, allowing her to escape, and they then sit watching the sun rise together while he turns to ashes in her arms.
So, OK I guess, but I've definitely seen better, and of these two films I enjoyed Rare Exports a lot more.