Christmas, the magical time of the year when friends and family celebrate the year past, and come together to eat, love and be jolly. What happens when Christmas and love are taken from you? How do you cope when the so-called happiest time of the year becomes the darkest? My review of White Reindeer after the jump.
In bland upper-middle America we meet real estate agent Suzanne Barrington (played amazingly by Anna Margaret Hollyman) and her weatherman husband Jeff (Nathan Williams). Jeff has just gotten word that he will be relocated to Hawaii, and Suzanne is overjoyed. This is her chance to escape her bland, but completely adequate life – what a Christmas gift! However, her joy is quickly extinguished when she returns home to find her husband has been murdered. Suzanne’s grief is both for her husband and the chance at breaking out of suburbia which now seems lost to her. Bored, grieving and without purpose, Suzanne snoops into her late husband’s life to find he wasn’t exactly the man she believed him to be. Sexual fetishes, strip bars and another woman made up a side of her husband that Suzanne didn’t know existed.
Suzanne’s grieving process is a complicated one – she’s grieving for herself and her dreams as much as she is for a man she didn’t really know. Much like a caterpillar emerges from its cocoon, Suzanne begins a new path in life with the grieving process. From drugs, to strip bars and a swingers party at the neighbour’s house, she smashes through her comfort barriers. Is it to numb the pain or is it just for something to do? Christmas time without the person you love, is a very lonely time indeed.
While not the conventional Christmas film, this is one that touches on the essence of Christmas in a very real and painful way. Christmas is about being with the ones you love; but what about those who don’t have that? How exactly do you fill that void? Anna Margaret Hollyman gives an incredibly deep and nuanced performance as Suzanne. She layers all the stages of grief, from anger to sadness, desperation to hope and the result is a character that feels so very real, and one we can get right behind.
There is something incredibly sad about Christmas music being played against a dark backdrop. Writer-director Zach Clark uses opposing imagery throughout the film to mimic the internal struggle going on within Suzanne. Hawaiian Christmas music (that has a tropical feel thanks to the ukulele) is played against a back drop of a snowy Virginian landscape, and Suzanne lies depressed on a sofa, with the pretty Christmas lights flashing in the background. Suzanne can’t reconcile Christmas with grief or her husband with the man she believed him to be. There is a dark side to the so-called domestic bliss in the suburbs, and Clark explores its many incarnations here. The perky neighbours who are actually hard-core swingers, or the beautiful woman at the cosmetic counter who strips to earn enough to take care of her family. Nothing is every as shiny as it seems, not even Christmas.
White Reindeer is a film of conflicts, self discovery and grief, all played out at the most wonderful time of the year.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Zach Clark
Writer(s): Zach Clark
Starring: Anna Margaret Hollyman, Laura Lemar-Goldsborough, Lydia Hyslop, Joe Swanberg
Runtime: 82 minutes