We know it’s pretty ridiculous to try and predict a future cult classic, but just go with us on this one.
Of the numerous traditions that accompany Christmas, from neighborhood caroling to gingerbread construction projects, one of the most treasured is the tried-and-true holiday film selection. It doesn’t matter if the mini-marathons start just after Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve; most people have a specific set of movies that they’ll only watch during the season, and they won’t make it to the new year without seeing them at least once.
I’m here to tell you Zach Clark’s depressingly amusing White Reindeer will be the next cult classic entry on that list, and you need to watch it as soon as possible. This is assuming your youngest and oldest family members aren’t partaking in the viewing, as there are quite a few scenes where graphic sex and drug use could make for an uncomfortable group experience. That isn’t snow on the poster seen below.
White Reindeer is a movie in which almost everything is at odds for our main character Suzanne, as whom Anna Margaret Hollyman delivers one of the year’s most genuinely human performances. Her seemingly polished life is affected by a systematically troublesome sequence of events that meld the narrative beats of cable melodrama and screwball comedy into a surprisingly relatable tale of growth and someone who approaches tragedy by trying to learn from it, rather than wallowing in its wake. Though it’s only a myth that the holidays drive up suicide rates, a large portion of the population equate such joyous times with sadness, and this film speaks to those people by copping to the fact that the only real solutions to life’s problems are the ones we believe in. It may not be the most blindingly uplifting message, but it’s a real one.
Twenty-four days before Christmas, Suzanne’s husband Jeff (Nathan Williams) surprises her with news that he got a job in Hawaii. As you can imagine, this inspires nothing but happiness in Suzanne, until she arrives home and finds Jeff dead, his head bashed in by an unknown assailant. And so begins the mournful road to recovery, which contains an intriguing pathway that takes Suzanne into her husband’s closeted past, which includes a young black stripper named Autumn, who is played with stunning realism by Laura Lemar-Goldsborough in her first feature role. There is no reason for Suzanne to seek out Autumn’s existence, and especially not her friendship, but she does, and temporarily devolves back into the heavy drinking, coke-snorting person she was when she and Jeff were in college.
A realtor, Suzanne also finds more superficial companionship with George (Joe Swanberg) and Patti (Lydia Hyslop), a young couple whom Suzanne helps to buy a home near hers. Their huge smiles and private behavior are given the proper upheaval as the film reaches its apex of sexual debauchery, during which Suzanne tries a more physically demanding approach to mental solace.
In the most Christmassy of ways, Suzanne also attempts to use money to spend her way out of depression by filling her life with an abundance of appropriate decorations, but this only leads to more problems as her finances begin to dwindle. It’s a movie that allows viewers to judge this character’s arguably bad decision-making by forcing us to consider how we would handle the same situation. When we’re at our lowest, we’ll sometimes heed whatever temporary call to happiness is in front of us, regardless of the lingering effects of those choices; and that goes double during the positivity-oozing holidays.
Like a more straightforward Todd Solondz film, Clark’s third feature balances the shock value of its vices with winning performances and a freedom from judgment. It doesn’t push the boundaries of cinematic messages like It’s a Wonderful Life, or charmingly exploit a weak premise like Home Alone, but it’s just as memorable for leaving all that behind to focus on a story that reminds us the holidays are nothing without humanity. And loads of coke.
For these reasons, plus Clark’s often muted and interesting directorial choices, I am certain that White Reindeer will become required viewing for a lot of you likeminded people out there who like something bitter to go with all the saccharine sweet Christmas flicks that are already clogging the cinematic chimney flue. The film is already out on VOD for everyone to enjoy, so just check the trailer out below and get to renting. Attach your opinions of the film to a piece of coal and stick it in my stocking when you’re finished.