A scientist called Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen) is searching for something in the remote Korvatunturi mountains in Finland and he has a team working on excavating a mountain and they have found layers of sawdust buried deep in the Mountain. Riley explains to the foreman Greene (Jonathan Hutchings) that sawdust is used by people in Finland to preserve things frozen in ice and he suspects that the mountain is a man-made construction to bury something. He warns Greene that the workers must obey a strict set of rules of behaviour and that the mountain should be regarded as a sacred site.
Two boys have been spying on the excavation site, Pietari (Onni Tommila) the hero of the story and an older boy Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää). The boys return home through a hole Juuso cut in the fence with wire cutters. Juuso mocks Pietari for still believing in Santa Claus but Pietari does not believe in the warm friendly Santa of modern western (American/English) culture. This Santa is a horned flesh-eating pre-Christian beast god that punishes wicked children by stealing and eating them.
Pietari lives alone with his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila) who is a reindeer herder. His mother left him many books on folklore but she died. Pietari consults his books on the local folklore of Santa to learn what he may up against. Next day all the local men get ready for the reindeer herd’s annual migration through the mountains and Pietari and Juuso are there too. This clearly one of the most important events for the local economy. But the herd don’t turn up, just one or two deer. The men go to investigate and they find the herd was slaughtered. They are baffled but think it must have been wolves displaced from the mountain by the excavation work. It is going to be a very lean time for them all this Christmas.
At home Rauno digs a trapping pit with the bottom lined with wooden stakes and baits it with a pig’s head hung over the pit to catch any wolves prowling round. The next morning they find something in the pit, or rather someone. It is a filthy old man with white hair and a dirty white beard (Peeter Jakobi). Juuso’s father Piiparinen is doing his rounds as Santa so helps Rauno take the body into Rauno’s slaughterhouse where then man doesn’t respond and they think he’s dead. They examine the clothes that he’s wearing and find a passport that belongs to one of the workers at the dig.
Pietari has a look at the pit himself and he finds a sack with a crudely carved life-size wooden doll. This old man is one of Santa’s helpers who goes out on Christmas Eve to take away naughty children in sacks for Santa and leaves wooden dolls in their place. When Pietari goes into the slaughterhouse the old man reacts by sniffing the boy’s scent.
Now that they know he’s alive Rauno goes to get Aimo, a local man who can speak English and who tries communicating with old man. They believe he one of the excavation team and they want to hold him hostage and will return him to excavation team when they get the money they would have earned from the reindeer. Their efforts to communicate are useless Only Pietari knows the truth and his worst fears are confirmed when he has Piiparinen phone home to check on Juuso whose mother thinks Juuso has gone out early and left a wooden doll in his bed as a prank. Santa has many helpers and they’ve all been busy.
They take the old man up to the excavation site to discuss with Riley exchanging him for money. Once there they see what Riley’s team dug up and they realise Pietari was right. It is then up to Peitari to come with a plan to not only save all the naughty children from Santa but to save his family and friends from financial ruin.
I like films that take the time get you deeply involved with the life of the characters and I felt a real sense of the pressure Rauno was under. I thought that the performances from Onni and Jorma Tormilla as Pietari and Rauno were so convincing I wonder if they are actually father and son. The ending made me laugh a few times with its twisted pragmatism. This is probably not suitable for young children but this would be okay as a family film.