Big Game **

biggame

Every kid’s fantasy at some point in their childhood is saving the day from the evils of the world, without necessarily donning the superhero cape. Big Game from Rare Exports director Jalmari Helander is a cheesy, old-fashioned action flick in the Die Hard vein aimed squarely at the younger audience. It also taps into traditional – in this case, Finnish – values that can get left behind in the tech-centric world of today’s youth.

The main issue with Big Game is it feels fairly lightweight when you cut out the action sequences, and with the price of a family cinema ticket today, this is a big cause for concern in recommending it. The irony is, what with Helander’s great sweeping vistas of ‘Finnish’ forest (filmed in Germany), it is designed to be watched on a big screen.

Samuel L Jackson plays the President of the United States onboard Air Force One on route to a G8 Summit. After terrorists shoot the plane from the sky, first disabling its defences with the help from an inside man, the President lands in an NASA-style escape pod in the snowy Finnish wilderness. He is found by young Finn, 13-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) who is on a rights-of-passage hunt to kill his first stag deer. Oskari doesn’t know who he’s rescued but agrees the get the President to safety. They soon find out that the inside man and the terrorists are hunting the President as a trophy. Undeterred, Oskari realises he has a new mission in coming of age.

Writer-director Helander has his tongue firmly in cheek here – no surprise after the more serious-natured Rare Exports, just having some fun with his miniature hero. Things are very black and white, good and bad, and dumbed down to the point of patronisation, only rescued by the like-ability – and quaint ignorance of wider world issues – of Oskari. There are the common coming-of-age themes that the teens will latch onto. Tommila is a convincing starlet with a stoic resolve as the mini action hero which you can’t fault him on.

Jackson earns one of his easiest pay-checks yet – albeit with a bit of physical exertion, with his President being the complete opposite to Harrison Ford’s have-a-go President Marshall in Air Force One. Jackson resigns himself to the elements and a small boy with a bow and local know-how. Admittedly, for the younger generation, this is an exhilarating though that a powerful adult figure is taking orders from them.

Even enjoyable turns from Brit actors Ray Stevenson and Jim Broadbent as US secret service personnel – the latter with oddest American accent going – fail to inject greater buzz, though German actor Mehmet Kurtulus makes quite a sinister baddie as terrorist Hazar.

There are some thrilling escape scenes on a knife edge too, like the use of a chest freezer as a getaway vehicle, and the President and Oskari have fun bonding then running, then repeating this. That’s about the long and short of the thin plot that sounds appealing on paper.

Big Game aims big in action and heart-felt fun but is lacking in anything else. It has solid values on offer and is a great advert for simple living and visiting Finland’s countryside for ‘the oldies’ watching. Whether it justifies a family cinema outing because it feels ‘half empty’ in substance is the big question. After all, today’s 13-year-old has a raft of superhero films with all kinds of layered theories and back stories at the box office to choose from, so its retro content may not be enough to fully satisfy.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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