White Reindeer: Film Review

This dark holiday tale isn't for the kiddies.

Zach Clark's black comedy concerns a grief-stricken widow who consoles herself with increasingly dangerous behavior.

Most indie holiday movies arrive virtually gift-wrapped on their way to eventual airing on the Hallmark Channel. Not so for Zach Clark's corrosive satire of suburban decadence that never quite succeeds in its delicate balancing act between dark humor and pathos. But despite its flaws and unevenness, White Reindeer at least deserves points for not providing another sugarplum-infused view of Christmas.

The film's central character is Virginia real-estate agent Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman), who as her favorite holiday approaches seems to have it all. Her handsome TV weatherman husband (Nathan Williams) has scored a new job in Hawaii, and she's just sold an expensive house next door to a friendly married couple (Lydia Johnson, Joe Swanberg).

But her world is shattered when she returns home from a Christmas shopping excursion to discover her husband brutally murdered, the victim of a random break-in. She attempts to numb her grief with an endless spree of online purchasing, only to find her world further rocked when she discovers that her late husband had been frequenting a stripper club and having an affair with one its employees.

She seeks out the woman, whose real name is Fantasia (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough). The two begin an unlikely friendship, and Suzanne soon finds herself engaged in such risky activities as snorting coke, shoplifting and participating in a holiday orgy at her new neighbors' home.

Clark's screenplay succeeds at times in amusingly depicting the dichotomies of its characters, with the stripper turning out to be a sympathetic single mom and the swinging partyers capping their night of debauchery with a heartfelt conversation about parenting matters. It's all rendered in a dark, deadpan tone that mirrors its heroine's existential blankness.

But it ultimately adds up to very little, with neither the humorous or dramatic elements proving particularly resonant. Despite the more garish plot elements, the proceedings seem curiously muted, as if the filmmaker was reluctant to push the envelope that he had opened. There are some quietly moving moments, and Hollyman effectively portrays her character's repressed angst. But for all its provocations, it's hard not to wish that White Reindeer had been infused with a little more John Waters-style outrageousness.

(IFC Films)

Production: Candy Castle Motion Pictures

Cast: Anna Margaret-Hollyman, Laura Lemar-Goldsborough, Nathan Williams, Lydia Johnson, Joe Swanberg, Chris Doubek

Director-screenwriter-editor: Zach Clark

Producers: Zach Clark, Melodie Sisk, Daryl Pittman

Executive producers: Kevin Clark, Daryl Pittman, Joan Peacock

Director of photography: Daryl Pittman

Costume designers: Holly Pierson, Karen Young

Composer: Fritz Myers

Not rated, 82 min.