Revelation Perth International Film Festival – White Reindeer review

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By Simon Miraudo
July 8, 2013

The holidays are hard, and writer-director Zach Clark only makes them harder on his Christmas-loving heroine in White Reindeer. The spectacularly affecting Anna Margaret Hollyman stars in the black (despite what the title might imply) comedy as Suzanne, a professional, thirty-something real estate agent looking forward to moving to Hawaii with her weatherman husband, Jeff (Nathan Williams), in the new year. When tragedy strikes, their plans are halted, and Suzanne must reconfigure her life accordingly. It’s a long, strange journey of self-discovery for her, culminating with an orgy populated by some of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. As Tracy Jordan once cautioned America, “Freaky-deakies need love, too.”

Among the freaky-deakies populating this picture: Suzanne’s sex-swing-having neighbours Patti (Lydia Hyslop) and George (Joe Swanberg), as well as Fantasia (Laura Lamar-Goldsborough), a stripper and single mother with whom Suzanne discovers she shares something significant in common. Clark is uncommonly sympathetic to all their travails. He does not run Suzanne – or the incredible Hollyman – through the emotional wringer just for the hell of it. As is remarked late in the piece, “Sometimes it feels good to feel bad.” As viewers, it often helps to walk in someone’s tragic shoes; to pull out the ol’ empathy once a year, like baubles from an old box in the garage, and ensure we’re still human. White Reindeer – despite being wickedly funny and sometimes shockingly dark – has that restorative effect on the heart.

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The Christmastime aesthetic gives Clark a colourful visual palette to play with. Warm, cream, holiday hues, contrasted with alien, neon, decorative lights. It’s a reminder of the artificiality of Christmas cheer. Suzanne, after peeling back the veneer from her marriage, and even her quiet suburb, discovers difficult truths. In turn, she sheaths herself first in her beloved Christmas attire (the ’embarrassing sweater’ budget for this Kickstarted project must have been immense), and later, in the guise of a more promiscuous, debauched individual. Neither brings much satisfaction. Composer Fritz Myers’ melancholy score complements those striking visual representations of Suzanne’s turmoil.

White Reindeer evokes another feature about grieving, The Descendants, and also greatly surpasses it. I was also reminded of fellow female identity crisis flick, Natural Selection. And, whenever a movie contains raunchy shenanigans in the snow, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation will come to mind. But White Reindeer is no derivative endeavour. It would be an insult to suggest Clark’s singularly unique, visually inventive, emotionally complex dramedy had been cobbled together from works that have come before it. White Reindeer is a rich, rewarding treat, at any time of year.

4.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

White Reindeer plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 12 and 14, 2013.

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