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Possible Worlds Film Review: White Reindeer (USA, 2013)

Surely everyone gets excited about Christmas, right? Well Suzanne Bennington does!

White Reindeer, written, directed and edited by Zach Clark, follows a period of where Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman), a real-estate agent, deals with the sudden death of her husband Jeff (Nathan Williams), the local TV weatherman. This so happens during her favourite holiday season - Christmas. Her grieving process leads her awkwardly befriending Fantasia (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough), a pole dancer who had an affair with Jeff that ended before he died. Set in suburban Virginia, this film is the epitome of how everything is not all what it seems to be.

Suzanne appears to be like a duck in water - calm and collected but you can tell that there are suppressed emotions simmering underneath. In amongst the confrontational content of the discovery of betrayal, loss of love and sudden loneliness, the comedic relief lies within the characters that surround Suzanne. There are her co-workers at the real-estate agency she works at - women who speak over each other in annoyingly high twangs, the recently-moved-in neighbours who appear squeaky clean but are actually closeted sexual deviants, and Fantasia’s co-workers who are coke-snorting, party-loving heightened stereotypes of pole dancers.

The sincere moments are what makes this film speak true about the human condition - one moment in particular is when Suzanne breaks down crying over her husband’s death whilst sitting on the toilet with her undies around her legs. It also sneaks around the curiosity of going through your loved one’s email after they passed away - would you do it?

The performances from the cast (even if the supporting cast were a bit caricatured) were well balanced and nuanced - especially from leading lady Hollyman, who succeeds in speaking all just through her actions and her eyes. Even though I felt a certain detachment, maybe because of the dry humour interspersed throughout, it can’t be helped to feel empathy towards Suzanne and ultimately Fantasia as they unknowingly grieve together over the one thing they had in common.

What is clever about this film is the use of Christmas as a guise and a metaphor - there is a magic to Christmas that starts when you’re a kid, and as you realise growing up that it is definitely not real, you ignore the facts anyway and just appreciate the loving and sharing spirit that is Christmas. Clark parallels this to Suzanne’s posthumous exploration of Jeff, and what could have potentially been an extremely dark and depressing film, ends up being somewhat hopeful and moving.

Understated but effective cinematography, well-paced editing and great production detail for an independent film, this is why I love the mumblecore movement currently trending in the US. An intimate journey with a real protagonist in amongst slightly absurd characters, White Reindeer is a film that makes you question the quirky anomalies in life.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Don't miss White Reindeer as part of the Possible Worlds film festival in Sydney - a showcase of the best in American and Canadian cinema. This film will screen on August 15th at Dendy Opera Quays. More details: http://www.possibleworlds.net.au/white-reindeer/

Directed by Zach Clark.
Duration: 82 Minutes.