RARE EXPORTS is indeed a very rare thing, a smart, articulate suspense film with genuine chills, yet ostensibly made as a “kids film”.

I had one of those truly memorable experiences with this picture – I spent much of it thinking that the one person in the world that needed to see the flick was Guillermo Del Toro. Back to CHRONOS, GDT has long been suggesting that part of what made fairy tales compelling was the fact that they often had elements of real horror. Many of his works delve deeply into this dark nature of children’s stories, and while RARE EXPORTS doesn’t quite plumb those depths, it nonetheless doesn’t shy away from the dark edge of the macabre. Thanks to the strange bubble that occurs at TIFF, I happened to run into GDT about 10 hours after my screening, and got to effuse to him my views of this little gem of a flick. If I’ve done one thing this year at the festival, I’ve turned this great filmmaker onto this gem of an import from Scandanavia.

The story of RARE EXPORTS is unique enough – a community is caught in the fear of Santa Claus, a type of wild, mythical creature, who stalks members of a remote town in Finland. As a pair of boys get into mischief, the town must bind together to try and tame this force of nature.

The film borrows heavily from the likes of JURASSIC PARK, and plays at the same level of “scary” as the first film in that series. While we never really feel the main protagonists (particularly the young ones) are going to die, the danger of their predicaments is shown with enough suspense that the audience can genuinely feel anxious about the outcome. North American films are littered with films where the tropes of the scary film are glossed onto a film with young people, yet there’s a form of censored restraint that essentially neuters any mood of real dread. RARE EXPORTS may not compete with the fashionable torture porn genre, but it’s effective enough at creating a rich, compelling world where we’re genuinely vested in the safety of our leads.

The scope of the production never belies the modest budget, and the assured performances are well directed, shaming once again many North American counterpart films of this nature, and the denouement is an absolute delight. This is by far the most fun I’ve had at a Christmas themed film, and sure to brighten the sprits of anybody willing to succumb to its creepy charms.