If the standard Christmas films are boring you silly, if you just can’t face crying over It’s a Wonderful Life one more time, if you’ve had it up to here with Scrooges and Elves and Muppets and you’re sick of the chestnuts roasting and Yuletide carols, here’s the a film to seek out that will give a frisson of that delicious existential dread lurking behind the ho-ho-happiness and good cheer. From the beginning this is North European Yule as it once was, dark dark things in the heart of a winter that’s quite likely to kill you, with nothing to feel cosy about. From the moment your heart threatens to warm at the sight of little children cheering as reindeer trot into view, only to be deliciously chilled when you realize their delight is at the idea the beasts can be killed and their carcasses sold, you know you’re in for something different from standard seasonal fare.
Somewhere in northern Finland multi- national company Subzero Inc have discovered an interesting phenomenon under a huge man-made hill, and they’re digging it out. They obviously haven’t watched The Thing From Another World – something frozen in the ice? – leave it alone! Meanwhile at the local butcher’s run-down homestead, complete with none too health-and-safety conscious abattoir outbuilding, oddball small boy Pietari (Onni Tommila), who’s been watching developments at the excavation site, decides to research the whole Santa business in an old book of folklore, and discovers the truth about the kindly old chap. It’s not like the Coke advert, advises his more worldly friend. It certainly isn’t.
The Thing they have awakened has huge horns for a start, and his elves are not exactly kindly helpers in bobble hats. Boiled child, anyone? Like a story from Grimm, it’s a ruthless battle against the cruelty of life. Helander has coaxed a fantastic performance out of Onni Tommila, a paradoxical little lad, both stoical and emotional, who carries a real shotgun and a favourite soft toy of indeterminate species along with him. It’s an all-male world (you almost fear the women have been carried off on some previous evil visitation on the land) of downbeat scruffy houses and a landscape of austere and frozen bleakness, and the dark is never very far away, nor is blood, on half-eaten carcasses, on smeared aprons, or dripped across dirty floors. But it’s a darkness shot through with a sharp, often surprising, utterly delicious black humour, which leaves you, in this season to be merry, with a rare smile of evil glee. An amalgam of the Terries Pratchett and Gilliam, laced with the creepiness of tales told beside the fire in Northern winters, and hard-headed wit about commercialization, one of the cleverest things about this film is that it plays with the underlying fears many children have about the Santa figure; the tricky thing is that with its menace and graphic bloodiness its 15 certificate means it’s not one for the younger members of the family. But as we’ve all got that scared child somewhere inside still, don’t let it stop you.
First seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, December 2010