THE ACCEPTED MYTHOLOGY of Santa Claus is an amalgam of stories and folktales from different cultures: Sinterklaas from the Netherlands, Basil of Caesarea from Greece, Kris Kringle from Bavaria, and American poet Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which is almost single-handedly responsible for the Santa we've come to know and love. In Finland, the character Joulupukki has its origins in the pagan myths of a goatlike creature that punishes bad children, and the new Finnish film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale takes that particular myth and runs with it.
It's a fine premise: What if Santa were actually buried under a mountain in northern Finland, an unforgiving winterscape populated by wolves, reindeer, and a few burly, hardscabble men? Excavators unearth him a few days before Christmas, and now this naked, feral Santa's out for the blood of children, whom he's rumored to spank and shatter into a million pieces. Young, squealy Pietari (Omni Tommila) is the only one who suspects who's slaughtering all the reindeer and leaving footprints in the snow. At times, Rare Exports is effectively creepy, and the icy locations in Lapland are stunning. But its sly humor is portioned out too sparingly, leaving the brief movie—scarcely over an hour—feeling a little short on holiday cheer.