Monday, December 23, 2013

White Reindeer

WHITE REINDEER                B             
USA  (82 mi)  2013  d:  Zach Clark                  Official site

An absurdist, black comedy for Christmas may be the perfect thing to accompany all the office parties and egg nog, where people tend to overdo their festive merriment during the holidays, often to cover up their own insecurities and emptiness inside.  But either way, this film will likely lead you down a road not taken before, especially its particularly bizarre take on Christmas, where part of its intrigue is counting down the days before the big event, where our heroine gets herself ever deeper into disturbing events that test her Christmas spirit.  Anna Margaret Hollyman, from Small, Beautifully Moving Parts (2011), is Suzanne Barrington, a chirpy, real estate agent seen selling a young couple (Joe Swanberg and Lydia Hyslop) a new home in Virginia suburbia, where she seems particularly thrilled to ease their fears about home break-ins, telling them she and her husband live just around the block.  This feeling of coziness is reinforced by a bout of noisy lovemaking in the kitchen, Greek-style, where her husband Jeff (Nathan Williams) has a tendency to talk his way through the moment with porn sounding sex talk, which sounds a bit edgy.  While he’s the likable local TV meteorologist, he announces over dinner that he’s been offered a new job in Hawaii, starting in January, so this will be their last Christmas in Virginia.  Immediately her mind lights up with thoughts of white sandy beaches and the ocean waves lapping at her feet, where somehow her perfect life just got a little bit better.      

Disaster strikes, however, when Suzanne returns home one evening only to find her husband lying on the floor dead with part of his skull blown away.  This sends her reeling into instant depression, staying with her parents afterwards, where she remains in shock throughout the funeral, still besieged by thoughts of Hawaii.  When she returns home, however, she seems determined to make a fresh start by immediately decorating for Christmas, though she does this by binge-buying on the computer, ordering just about everything, spending a fortune.  But not to worry, as apparently money is the least of her concerns, especially after Jeff’s best friend awkwardly reveals her husband was having an affair with a stripper before he died, immediately sending her to his laptop where she quickly gains entry, discovering his favorite porn site, which she sits and watches while nonchalantly munching on a salad.  Before you know it, she’s found her way to the local strip club, where she finds Fantasia (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough) in the dressing room, a young black woman with eyelash extensions that appear to have hanging attachments on the end, a marvel of physical science that they’ll even stay in place.  Fantasia is not the least bit phased by the visit, and even offers a hug over the death of their mutual amour, and then out of the blue, asks Suzanne if she wants to hang with some of the girls at a dance club afterwards.  With literally nothing on her plate, why not?  What else has she got to do?  While they all binge drink and do lines of cocaine, Suzanne politely refuses, but as the evening wears on, she decides to give it a try, shown in a blur of white flashes, as she literally can’t stop herself from indulging. 

Waking up in a daze on someone’s sofa, as a little black girl is yelling in her face that it’s time to get up, Suzanne asks where she is?  “Maryland” is the unexpected response, as if she’s suddenly become Alice after falling down the rabbit hole.  But she’s safely with Fantasia, who lives with her mother and young daughter, where they politely offer her breakfast after she pukes in the bathroom.  Again, having no other plans, Fantasia decides to invite her shopping, which becomes a cocaine-fueled excursion of high-end shoplifting at Macy’s, where they wrap their stolen possessions in aluminum foil, as if this is a secret criminal code, followed by nonstop partying at a friend’s house.  Suzanne is a good sport and the women are surprisingly accepting of this vanilla white bread, suburban girl with hardly a hint of personality, while they get blitzed to super aggressive punk rock songs.  While there are amusing stretches, including an anything goes, Joe Swanberg-hosted sex party, where Suzanne finally loses it in the bathroom, where her emotional world is simply crumbling all around her, but she’s being comforted by a woman dressed in a naked catsuit.  Much of it is too absurd for words, a turbulent rollercoaster ride into a psychological descent of utter Hell, but it has to be said people are reaching out to her in her hour of need, so it’s not like she is going through her turmoil alone.  Again counting down the days to Christmas, her parents compound the ordeal by announcing they are separating, which is more like a punctuation mark on an utterly devastating series of events.  Nonetheless, her recurrent flashes of an imaginary Hawaii are a persistent reminder that there’s plenty more to discover out there, where the blur of her own life needs an abrupt shift to something new, where the film offers an amusing blend of naturalism and an imaginary world beckoning.  The director Zach Clark’s WHITE REINDEER joins the ranks of several American independent filmmakers like David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche (2013), Jeff Nichols’ Mud (2012), Aaron Katz’s COLD WEATHER (2010), and Chad Hartigan’s This Is Martin Bonner (2013), where they are all graduates of the North Carolina School of Arts.       

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