White Reindeer (2013) Review

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There’s the odd occasion where you see a film, and its cover and title insinuate that it’s one thing, but it turns out it isn’t quite as you’d imagined. White Reindeer is one of those films. A Christmas movie in the sense that it’s set during Christmas-time, but otherwise an indie drama with pitch black humour mixed in. Directed by Zach Clark (Modern Love is Automatic), who also penned the film, this is one that was released a year ago in the US, but didn’t find release in the UK until this November, meaning I’ve only just had the opportunity to give it a shot.

We meet Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) who is happily married to Jeff (Nathan Williams). They have a healthy sex-life and Jeff has just had some great news regarding his job. When a tragedy occurs though, causing Suzanne be left alone, her life suffers a tailspin and she struggles to get back on track. We follow Suzanne as she attempts to come to terms with the life she now finds herself living, but see her falling into situations such as shoplifting, drug-use and sex orgies to name a few. She meets a woman that she finds out had an affair with Jeff, named Fantasia (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough), and when she visits her at the strip-club that she works at, it results in the two beginning an obscure friendship of sorts. Trying to surround herself with all things Christmas-time, Suzanne goes off the deep-end behind the doors of her home in her Virginia suburban town.

I want to begin with a small piece of advice: don’t sit and watch this with your whole family at Christmas. Your parents, your kids, your less-open minded friends. This isn’t your “cosy festive film”. This is, however, a dark little look at the life of someone suffering the aftershocks of a tragedy and being hit with news from various places that make it harder for her to move on. Hollyman, as Suzanne, carries the film on her slight shoulders and does a great job of showing a range of emotions, from shock, to sadness, to confusion, stopping by with happiness, arousal, chaos and depression along the way. It’s a top notch performance that really makes the film worth the time. The other characters are merely there for Suzanne to react to, to play off and to speak with, learning along the way how to move on with her existence.

There could be something said for the lack of development in the other characters in the film, especially Fantasia who was intriguing enough that I feel she warranted a few extra minutes of time spent on giving her more layers. There are also some moments where Suzanne’s “downward spiral” feels almost too much, over-the-top, if you will, in an otherwise pretty realistic-feeling film. The dialogue was fine, sometimes very funny, and I enjoyed the story of the lead character. It isn’t a deep film though, and while it does have its moments of feeling festive, that is not the point here, not at all. You can literally go from one moment spent watching candy canes, Santa Claus and tinsel to sex swings and cocaine snorting. Yeah… not so festive.

It’s a bit of a weird one, but I did enjoy this. It has flaws, plenty of them in fact, especially when it comes to the lack of characters and time exploring them, but Hollyman does a lovely job as Suzanne, and that was enough to make me feel like it was worth giving this film a go. A film about searching within yourself to find the answers to life’s deepest and hardest of questions. It’s an adult Christmas flick that feels lazy in many ways, but enjoyable and funny in others. I thought it was okay, and good at times. You might too.

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