Love and Other Drugs – 2*

Let’s be frank: This is a film for dedicated Jake Gyllenhaal and/or Anne Hathaway fans because both are paraded in their full glory and look hot to trot (just see the poster) – even the latter, which is tad unsettling, considering she plays a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer on stage 1 of the illness. Now, that’s not to say that looking good isn’t an option, and fighting the disease means tackling everyday existence head-on. But Love and Other Drugs seems confused as to how it wants to be taken, apart from the obvious polished-looking rom-com with two good-looking leads in Gyllenhaal and Hathaway. It simply misses the mark on sentimentality and seriousness of subject matter, coming across as a frivolous fling.

The film does take a long time to get going, too. There is a lot of toned and birthday-suited Gyllenhaal and Hathaway to get through – fans will undoubtedly be pleased to hear – as we witness their first odd meeting and subsequent entanglement. Gyllenhaal looks doe-eyed in Hathaway’s presence – set to melt hearts. Hathaway fires off her standard defensive, sarcastic retorts, before showing her vulnerable side that gets a little tedious after a while. It’s acting by numbers and barely offers anything fresh from either talent. And even when they finally decide they’re ‘sort of’ an item, the plot still feels a little hazy as to its intended direction, leaving a rather deflating feeling in the end. This could well be Zwick‘s erratic direction, though.

Love and Other Drugs starts out as a confident and slick dig at corporate life in the pharmaceutical game with some humorous and cheeky moments, thanks to Gyllenhaal’s steady performance as young salesman buck Jamie with the world at his feet. Enter Hathaway as gorgeous patient Maggie with encyclopaedia knowledge of every Parkinson’s symptom and drug on the market. This is where things start to get a little incredulous. In fact it would have been more believable if Jamie had tried pressing some of his drug wares on Maggie, but he falls hook, line and sinker for her – and the more abrasive she is, the more he chases. It helps that she wants unattached sex, but boy, is there a lot of carnal knowledge to get through before anything really interesting begins.

It does feel like watching two different films. The concept of corrupt medical staff seems like an intriguing one on its own, under the lure of free drugs and Viagra-plugging. This is the really interesting part of the whole story. Apart from Maggie looking tired and getting a few shakes, sporadically, the Parkinson’s gets a brief sentimental look-in near the end when the couple go on the road to find a ‘cure’ and end up at an unofficial convention for the disease. It’s obvious the film-makers want to highlight that any age can be affected but life goes on. However, the easy blend of comedy and heart-felt moments just doesn’t quite mix.

With Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs should be a rom-com match made in heaven, a sexy affair, considering both are fine actors in their own right. But although watchable at times because of the casting, the high that these two should inject fizzles out, once you’ve overindulged in their lust fest and tried in vain to work out what the purpose of it all is – and ‘love conquers all’ just isn’t enough in this case.

2/5 stars

By L G-K

Meet The Parents: Little Fockers – 3*

In-laws or ‘out-laws’, whatever you want to call them, are what make the silly season so interesting – and quite often volatile. So, releasing yet another in the Meet The Parents series seems like ideal pre-Christmas viewing, before spending enforced time with your own. We can all relate to the tight-lipped niceties and time-bomb tension, hence, Little Fockers, the third film in this 10-year saga, should tick all the boxes, right?

Well, to a certain extent, yes, but like an annoying relative who insists on repeating the same old, tired joke that dried up along with last year’s turkey, Little Fockers still (desperately) goes for laughs with its naughty-sounding surname gag. This time it’s taken to new Mafioso-heights with the promise of downtrodden son-in-law Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) becoming the ‘Godfocker’ (groan) of controlling patriarch Jack Byrnes’ (Robert De Niro) empire in his demise.

That’s really the plot, the whole plot, and nothing but the plot, give or take a few sub-plots and odd peppering of supporting actors – like a greasy-haired and tattooed Harvey Keitel as a brash foreman for starters (pray, why?). The attractive poster mix of A-Listers that includes De Niro, Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo and Jessica Alba never really comes to the boil, and the child puke jokes and early penile discoveries feel as awkward as the actors having to dish them out for the hard-of-seeing.

The real stars of the second film, Hoffman and Streisand, are virtually frittered away, here, making sporadic appearances in this film, and coming in at the last minute to almost ‘save the day’ at the twins’ party. You could have forgiven their lacklustre usage, had the film-makers dared to be different with a promising role-reversal element to Focker and Byrnes at the start, with Focker getting a little power-crazed with his own young family, after getting the call from Byrnes that should change his family dynamic for life.

Sadly, director Paul Weitz and co. revert to two-dimensionality again, with new addition Alba being the worst culprit as incredibly perky and annoyingly enthusiastic drug rep Andi Garcia (another cringeworthy pun that has to be spelt out), but really not letting us get past the fact that it’s just near-naked Alba looking stunning again and showing off her trim figure. Well, at least that’s a thumbs-up for the boys, whilst the girls can all curse at reaching for that last mince pie.

That said, the reason for Little Fockers’ guaranteed interest at the box office is, like Christmas, we may tire of some of its elements, but it’s hard not to get into the spirit of it, in all its panto glory. This time of year is all about pulp-style films with frustratingly amicable characters like Alba as Garcia and Stiller as Focker. We love to watch a fool, especially a fool with flaws; it’s as much of a draw as picking at the leftover turkey. It still brings a smile to the face and a few chuckles, and we know it’s wrong to continue contributing financially to it – especially with the unashamedly obvious hint of a fourth film at the end – but we just can’t help ourselves.

Therefore, Little Fockers offers nothing new, just a bunch of nostalgic old/rehashed that, if being completely honest, isn’t really offensive pre-Christmas viewing, and it may get you through out-law nightmares with a secret smile on the big day.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

Gulliver’s Travels – 3*

Jack Black is an acquired taste. Let’s face it; if you’re not a fan, you wouldn’t even contemplate going to see a film, which is effectively another stage for self-depreciating Blackmania. The only issue is whether as a fan of the tale of Gulliver’s Travels, the version from director Rob Letterman – the man behind Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale – will entertain or irk you. If you are loyal to the quintessentially English literary text, you may find the contemporary American (New York) spin a bit too brash, as Gulliver becomes a bungling mailroom employee with aspiring ideas of being a travel writer to impress the girl (travel sub-editor Darcy (Amanda Peet)), and is sent off to the Bermuda Triangle on his first assignment.

Low and behold, hapless Gulliver hits a waterspout in a vicious storm, and gets spat out on the shores of Lilliput, full of little people who think he’s a beast – well, he is a man giant to them. The rest is set for a fest of Black comic over-indulgence, Black flabby flesh over-exposure, Black eyebrow gymnastics, and Black taunts at the stuffiness of old English etiquette. The latter is what gets a little irksome at times, especially with when Gulliver revamps Lilliput in New York style with garish billboards and American casuals. Admittedly, the part where he goes all ‘School of Rock’ (Guitar Hero moves) is as amusing as an impatient kid trying to impress a parent. The re-enacting of cinematic classics, like Star Wars and Titanic for the Lilliput royal family as a theatrical re-enactment of the great Gulliver’s life back home get most of the satirical laughs.

What makes these moments are the impressive supporting cast of Brits in deadpan humour mode, including Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, James Corden, and Catherine Tate – although, sadly, we get to see very little input from the latter lady. O’Dowd appears to match the Black idiocy for the British contingent as pompous General Edward, and Blunt complements as bored, but smart and very beautiful Princess Mary he’s betrothed to. But it’s fellow countryman Jason Segel as the love-struck Horatio yearning for Mary’s affection and as Black’s diminutive sidekick who often steals the scenes from Black, especially he wooing of Mary with a contemporary love song classic.

There is also one inspired moment in the film, where Gulliver wakes up in a dolls house and gets terrorised by a youngster that’s almost Lynchian in respect, but the rest of the film is pantomime fluff that still touches on the original tale’s themes of man’s treatment of man, petty differences between sides/religions and political corruption, but all done in a far lighter manner. Unfortunately, the film concept swings from Wild Wild West to Transformers – perhaps a precaution to keep the youngsters happy with a bit of robot wars? Prepare, also, as always, for the big morals at the end, delivered by Black who always comes to his adult senses for a mere split second, after a burst of childish lunacy.

Black does what he does best in Gulliver’s Travels; he’s a man-child at heart, employed to dumb down any tale for the kids. There is an uglier side in the shameless advertising throughout, targeting the adults who have nowhere to hide from their offspring in the cinema shadows, especially the Lilliput soldiers’ infatuation with Gulliver’s iPhone. Still, a jolly funny song and dance later reiterates that neither star nor cast have taken this seriously, and as a bit of family escapism on Boxing Day, it’s adequately entertaining, and far better than your local stage panto.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

The Way Back – 3*

With highly respected film-maker Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) behind a new adventure, you know you are in for a visually stunning treat, born of meticulous planning and hard graft to get it factually right. The Way Back is no exception to the Weir catalogue of cinematic triumphs, a sumptuous film adaptation based on the equally fascinating true story of a 4,500-mile trek against nature’s odds by seven escaped prisoners from Stalin’s Siberian Gulag in 1940.

Weir spares no expense in the grand scheme of things, whilst managing to convey the intricate personal stories of all his characters, played by an intriguing variety of acting talent. Jim Sturgess is Janusz, a polish national who falls foul of Stalin’s ideals, opposite Colin Farrell as the dangerous and blade-obsessed street criminal Valka. Ed Harris is American prisoner Mr. Smith, a man of few words, alongside the only female lead in the film, The Lovely Bones star Saoirse Ronan as runaway Polish orphan Irena. Harris and Ronan develop a convincingly tender father-daughter relationship, in the midst of the harshest of living conditions – both on and off set – that makes Weir’s film even more compelling, as Irena unlocks each man’s inner personality.

Indeed, the four leads deliver some exceptional performances, and some of the best of their respective careers, which is hardly surprising, given the rich subject matter and history at their disposal. In fact, this is an enlightening history lesson with lots of danger and action on its own about a period that’s often overlooked in the classroom, in favour of Nazi domination in mainland Europe at the time. Therefore, it can be argued that it’s hard to detract your feelings about the then-realities, from whether or not this is a good film.

As journeys on film go – and there haven’t been many epic ones, the likes of Lawrence of Arabia or Out of Africa in decades, unless you count Australia by Weir’s countryman Luhrmann, The Way Back is one that sounds incredulous, had it not been based on truth. This entanglement of truth and fiction shows the power of Weir’s storytelling skill, as well as his commendable casting.

Admittedly, the lead performances are strong on their own, but are helped by an excellent supporting cast of foreign actors that provide some of the lighter moments in the film; Romanian Alexandru Potocean is wise-cracking accountant, Tomasz who likens eating snake to eating a “big black poisonous chicken with no legs”. Weir nicely balances these very detailed human exchanges in the face of adversity with the wider ones, to avoid pretension and possible tedium. However, as with such a film, it does suffer from flatter moments, as you wait for the next thing thrown at the group, even with yet another breathtaking panoramic wide to feast on.

Weir fans will not be disappointed, though, and fans of the cast members will be equally impressed, too. This is solid, old-school epic film-making that is deeply affecting with its captivating human spirit, and makes for a welcome break from the incessant 3D out there.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

TRON: Legacy – 3*

The original Tron was silly, almost camp, with the programs’ skin-tight, luminous Spandex-styled suits and comical overreactions. But it was undeniably groundbreaking, especially in production design and imagination. It also helped to later produce an Oscar-winning actor in Jeff Bridges, who isn’t shy of playing an odd array of quirky characters, from Starman, Lebowski and Jack (Fisher King), to the character he revives in this latest episode, computer geek Kevin Flynn, inventor and master of The Grid and Tron. Flynn is back, but now there’s a son on the loose. But can we get exited, as we did the first time around, especially as it’s offered in 3D?

It’s fair to say that the production design on this is pretty spectacular, and at times, exhilarating to witness in 3D, especially the high-octane games sequences, when Flynn’s son Sam, played by a rather two-dimensional, but eye-pleasing Garrett Hedlund, gets beamed into the Grid and into the gladiatorial-style death event, after poking around in his dad’s old games arcade. The visuals are a sci-fi lover’s ideal fantasy – Avatar aside.

The problem is the basic CGI effects, especially on a supposedly younger-looking Bridges/Flynn as he tells his young son a bedtime story about Tron at the start, before he mysteriously disappearing from his life. The facial features are less than realistic and rather ghoulish, prompting even this critic afterwards to question whether it’s meant to be Flynn himself, or possibly, one of Flynn’s two incarnations/alter-egos, the evil Clu or Tron who have made it into the real world? But then there wouldn’t be a story, if Clu had succeeded. Therefore, a little more cash should have been spent on trying to get a youthful Bridges right, what with all the Hollywood wizardry out there now. And what about good old-fashioned make-up and prosthetics? Surely this would have fared a little better?

Even Bridges seems a trifle bored at times at being back in the Grid, delivering a confusing mix of Zen Master one minute, to superhuman being and Star Wars warrior the next in scenes resembling a Pet Shop Boys’ Go West video, particularly when Clu’s rising program army try to breakthrough into our unordered world and create order (good luck). If it weren’t for Bridges and a hilariously camp turn by Michael Sheen as the slippery underworld entrepreneur Caster/Zuse who looks like a cross between David Bowie and Mr Wonka, this film would be all lights and no action. Even the hedonistic and adventurous Hedlund – muscles, motorbikes and all – would fail to keep the interest of the youth audience for its entire duration.

What the film has in dazzling lightshows and Star Wars-styled battles, it lacks in content and purpose. Admittedly, it is a very interesting concept, in that a son-with-abandonment-issues goes back to find and confront his father, and it could have been a highly intelligent piece of sci-fi history in the making. Sadly, it’s all a little flat, and it seems to imply that who cares when we are dazzled by the imagery, which looked stunning on a standard cinema screen, let alone an IMAX one.

Throw in an attractive DNA-altered being in Quorra, played by the gorgeous Olivia Wilde, and you have even more reason to keep the geeks hooked. The problem was her ability to (warning: spoiler) enter the real world was still never fully explained, apart from some swirling DNA-style diagrams in a glass container. Also, there was something quite troublingly incestuous about her relationship with both father and son, implying ‘companionship’ of sorts with both, but with Sam getting to ‘share’ her in the end, which is very ‘arthouse French Cinema’, but just translates as seedy, here, and in such a film.

The problem with the sequel is fans of the old may not register or relate with the new – even their hero Bridges is not as enthusiastic, vibrant and verging on crazy as the younger Flynn of the 80s, almost like a burnout, former shell of himself. They won’t recognise the new 2010 surroundings either. A younger audience has been brought up on a diet of The Matrix films, so there are obvious similarities, which may prompt a blasé “seen it” attitude.

However, it is visually striking – creepy CGI Bridges aside – and super slick and sexy, transporting you into a world that is full of concepts and possibilities about a future, future time. But with all the computer and mobile technology around today, the film-makers could have run wild with their imaginations and channeled it in further to make it truly contemporary. Another real plus point is the cracking soundtrack from Daft Funk that sets off the action scenes perfectly, further energising the visuals. TRON: Legacy is like the bimbo of sci-fi films; all looks and no substance, but flatters you anyway.

3/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: In Our Name – 4*

It seems that once having seen images of war first-hand, it’s impossible to lead a ‘normal’ existence on Civvy Street. This is certainly the case from personal experience, and writer/director Brian Welsh’s second feature, In Our Name, would have you believe this, too. In fact, as the media is quick to remind us, it appears back home that Britain is under siege, too, from feral teen gangs. These topics, plus mixed public sentiment about war in Iraq provide ample ammunition for an intense case study of a returning soldier.

Welsh gives the concept a nice little twist by making the soldier in the film a woman who is not only a wife, but a mother, too. This raises the fascinating social debate about the still predominantly male role of a soldier and the lack of support given to those who need it most on returning. Indeed, with all the Defence budget cuts recently, disturbingly, all that springs to mind whilst watching this is just how many ex-servicemen and women end up homeless on the streets. This was an unnerving, post-viewing chill factor.

These issues fuel the intensity that In Our Name delivers from the start, when we see Suzy, played by the captivating Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame, returning to her less-than-happy home, complete with disturbing flashbacks of an incident on tour that torments her. Far from having the support she desperately craves, she finds an impatient and frustrated husband and a young daughter who blames her for going away. Suzy also soon discovers that the local youth is using her street as a meeting point, causing the usual mindless antisocial behaviour. It’s a recipe for disaster waiting to happen – all you can do is wait and witness the fallout.

Talented Froggatt’s performance is faultless, instantly engrossing as Suzy who tries to come to terms with her life as it unravels faster than she could’ve possibly predicted. Combined with Welsh’s goading slow-burn situations, Froggatt as Suzy has you questioning whether things really are that dangerous outside the front door, or whether her trigger-happy actions and fragile mental state are the true catalyst. The fear of crime is far greater than the reality – as any criminologist would say – and it’s intoxicating here.

What this film does – apart from having a large dig at governmental impotency on the matter – is provide a surprisingly fascinating microcosm of a person’s anxieties and paranoia, within the framework of an ordinary domestic situation. Just when you feel that Suzy is ‘healing’, her unstable husband (played by a suitably sinister Mel Raido) reopens the wounds again. We discover that the healing process is unlikely to happen in her trapped situation as her husband is equally traumatised by events he’s encountered in combat. Interestingly, Suzy’s reaction is to defend, whereas her husband’s is to attack.

Some events in the film turn the ordinary and believable into the extraordinary and ridiculous. Welsh tries to tackle racial intolerance in a brutally unnecessary and titillating way in one latter scene, even though we can see he’s trying to make Suzy and her husband’s over-reactions seem absurd in a climatic moment. The ending is a little strange, too, although with hindsight, could be credible if Suzy’s been used to adapting and living in her wild surroundings. Thankfully, Welsh steers away from a tragic ending with a gun, wisely realising that there has been enough drama, without going overboard.

All in all, it’s Froggatt’s marvellously acted reactions that speak a thousand words when uttering none, plus a half-decent script that drive this dramatic offering. Whether it’s a box-office winner that can cash in on Downton Abbey’s popularity in featuring one of its stars is another thing. What is evident is it’s a solid home-grown drama that goes to further showcase the talents of an actress who is always an exciting prospect to watch (and a very gracious lady), and will, hopefully, get us appreciating those who risk their lives, both abroad or at home when they deal with everyday worries, in addition to carrying the mental baggage of injustices and unimaginable horrors. Is this film a political statement? You bet, and made all the more striking with a woman at its helm.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

Monsters – 4*

For a film with such an emotive title that conjures up all kinds of stereotypical sci-fi imagery of Earth being taken over by extraterrestrial life forms, Monsters by documentary film-maker Gareth Edwards is quite the opposite. It’s actually a surprisingly tender relationship study between two humans that blossoms amongst nature of the Earth and alien kind, here on this fair planet. It also helps that little-known leads Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) are a real-life couple, too, making their union on the screen seem all the more stronger and believable, complete with the inevitable highs and lows.

The sci-fi element that you would come to expect from the film gradually develops into a peripheral factor that intermittently thwarts the couple’s path to true love, like ‘a sci-fi obstacle course’ that strengthens their resolve. But fear not; this is not a ‘rom-com in an alien disguise’ either. It’s just a very personable journey with two intriguing characters that has alien dangers to it, but what the real danger is, is apparent in the end.

Edwards’ style of ad-libbing certainly pays off, and which also highlights his documentary roots. As his first feature film was always going to be a gamble at the box office, it’s interesting to speculate whether the strong relationship factor really was Edwards’ original intention, or whether this film is a taster for an intended saga, with Monsters establishing the characters, and a more revealing sequel about the alien life on Earth to follow? Certainly, those expecting a pitch battle between humans and aliens will be disappointed. The closest our couple get is a Jurassic Park-style encounter with some Triffid/Martian-like creatures that results in man being more brutal than the former.

That’s the beautiful ambiguity of the title: Who are the true Monsters – us or them? There are lots of parallels flagged between ‘aliens’ and US immigration issues on the Mexico/US border – much like the ‘illegal alien invasion’ parallels in District 9. Although this is a well-trodden film topic, Monsters does well not to dwell on the matter because the relationship is key, and how our leads learn to respect and live alongside another race.

The alien segments are undoubtedly homage to James Cameron, from pulsating, luminous wildlife in the trees, as in Avatar, to illuminated aliens straight out of The Abyss. This appears to be Edwards’ self-indulgent aspect of his film, allowing an insight into the creator’s mind of what might have been produced with a bigger budget to hand – although bigger is not necessarily better. Edwards’ credit here is just what he’s achieved in atmosphere and tension with very little finances.

The chosen pseudo-documentary style seems to be becoming the norm for this genre, as in District 9, as though any other cinematographic style would not be credible anymore. But the pace is a graceful, almost serene, especially in the jungle river scene, which is reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, allowing us to get a feel for the territory that the couple invades and disturb.

Monsters has déjà vu elements for certain, but it also has a unique style that feels slightly alien in itself. It’s often very relaxing to watch, like an extraterrestrial wildlife expedition from remote jungle land. The couple’s chemistry is genuine, as are the events like the parades in the film that justify Monsters being described as ‘the most realistic monster movie ever made’. For fans of the genre, it’s definitely one to catch and respect for its low-budget film-making values. In fact its success may be to Edwards’ detriment, should he have planned another, as money may give birth to a Hollywood monster instead.

4/5 stars

By L G-K

Megamind – 5*

Everybody loves a superhero, especially one who is not so ‘super’ at what they do, and one that has flaws we can relate to. Meet Megamind, a large, blue-headed klutz who just wants to be loved and accepted, which is what makes him so endearing from the word go.

Megamind is the most brilliant super-villain the world has ever known, but is also the most unsuccessful, propelled to Earth in a Superman fashion, after the demise of his own planet. Over the years he tries to conquer Metro City, but fails, thanks to his nemesis, the perfect and gallant caped crusader, Metro Man. Then one day, Megamind succeeds, but far from feeling elated, the criminal mastermind realises his game and purpose is over with no adversary to tackle. That is, until a new villain threatens Metro City, and Megamind finds himself in the unusual position of the people’s hero who gets the girl. Yes, it’s textbook stuff, but it’s the execution that makes this animation of the same name stand out from the chaff of 3D offerings of late.

Megamind is a sharp, vibrant and nutty example of why DreamWorks is light years ahead in 3D-animated storytelling. It’s super energetic super-villainy at its finest that delivers a mega-lovable, oddball rogue for all ages, within a solid, good-verses-evil tale that tugs on the nostalgic strings. It also delivers just the right balance of endless imagination and adult humour that won’t bore the kids, even if it does provoke the odd groan at times.

It’s also a true 3D experience, with no shadowing or unnecessary indulgence, but effects of the highest production values seen this year that only add to the fun you’ll have following Megamind’s antics. For entertainment value, it’s fair to say this is on a par with The Incredibles, even if it emulates the latter, complete with wit that’s laced with sarcasm from its animated cast, with Will Ferrell a pure tonic as Megamind’s voice, Tina Fey as his love interest, Roxanne Ritchie, and an almost unrecognisable Brad Pitt voicing testosterone-fuelled Metro Man.

Megamind is a real pre-Christmas 3D treat for all the family that can only be seen on the big screen for full, eye-popping effect and zeal. You’ll be tickled and touched by Megamind, and walk away with a big, soppy grin on your face and a feeling of contentment greater and more delicious than any Christmas dinner.

5/5 stars

By L G-K

LFF: Rare Exports – 4*

It’s silly season again, and the thought of yet another Santa movie thrills some and has others gnawing the furniture in despair. But writer/director Jalmari Helander’s alternative Christmas tale, Rare Exports, is one you’ll not forget in a hurry, based on two short films. It’s designed to challenge the schmaltzy, commercialised holiday season head on, with a Santa who has nasty bite. It’s a unique version based on the more sinister side of Norse (Scandinavian) mythology about Santa’s darker duties to punish children – and worse.

Helander’s film starts out like any other thriller set in idyllic, snowy isolation, with this one located in the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains on the Finnish-Russian border. An archaeological dig unearths a closely guarded secret of Christmas, but it’s far from a ‘ho, ho, ho’ and jolly affair. Reindeer get butchered and children go missing, and it’s up to a small boy to bring the mysterious happenings to the attention of the adults who seem more occupied with money worries, than their disappearing offspring. Basically, it’s up to a kid who looks like Bjork’s son and his unflinching belief in Santa to save the day. But this is not a kids-targeted film, which makes it all the more captivating as a foreboding adult fairytale.

Rare Exports offers both a fascinating social look at a particular way of life, as well as the political woes and tense relationships with its larger neighbour, Russia. There is a quirky sense of sardonic, dark humour within its Scandinavian deadpan delivery that courses through its veins, as it stays true to the short stories’ concept it’s based on.

What goes down the standard thriller route of hunting the evil, and confronting and defeating it, takes an unexpected twist as Santa’s elves step on the scene, conjuring up some of the most serene but creepiest imagery ever, as well as really putting our concept of Christmas’ rosy-cheeked icons to the test. Helander even manages to add traces of the supernatural to the look and feel of the film, even with reference to Alien in there, especially when the villagers discover Santa’s lair. It’s a compelling visual mix.

The title only becomes apparent at the end in one of the most bizarre gibes at the ghastly, commercialised aspect of the holiday season in its snide portrayal of big corporation and its production lines at this time of year. Anyone with a weak disposition to exposed bodies of the more mature kind should take heed, as there’s plenty of it on display in that unrepentant European liberalist nature, too.

Rare Exports is both a strangely funny and brazenly disconcerting experience that promises to shake up your Santa perception. It’s one not to miss for anyone who has ever grumbled about participating in this season – a true dark Christmas thriller.

4/5 stars

By L G-K