White Reindeer, written & directed by Zach Clark, gives us an intimate but mostly funny look at coping with the holidays right after a tragedy. We open with a postcard-perfect view of the Hawaiian coast then are brought to the cold winter winds of Virginia where we meet successful realtor Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman) who lives the perfect WASP life with her weatherman husband, Jeff (Nathan Williams). Life is about to get better as Jeff announces he has been hired in a coveted position in Hawaii. Suzanne excitedly prepares for their last Christmas in Virginia until she comes home to find her husband brutally departed, leaving her instantly enervated of life and its promises. Her parents’ attempts to support her during this time are politely rejected by Suzanne who intends to travel alone on this cruel sojourn she has been thrust upon. She soon finds solace in shopping and lethargy, willfully oblivious to the demands of her new reality.
During the funeral, a friend breaks down and confesses that Jeff had an affair with a stripper named Fantasia (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough). This revelation draws Suzanne to retrace her husband’s steps through the seedy world of Internet porn. In her mire, she finds herself gravitating towards the “other woman,” and finally confronts her. Possibly too ravaged by her own situation to express any animosity towards Fantasia, the confrontation turns out to be rather pleasant and they become friends. Suzanne even baby-sits for her. Things go south for Suzanne in the stripper world, but she continues her search for some kind of grounding by knocking on the door of her swinger neighbors and asking to join in one of their orgies. Despite giving it the good old college try, she still finds herself out of place in another situation in which it is easy for someone like her to feel out of place.
Christmas slowly approaches, and Suzanne forces the holidays upon herself by adhering to a strict diet of eggnog and candy canes while maxing out her credit cards on holiday hodgepodge. Hitting her rock bottom, Suzanne finds herself in a position to do something meaningful for someone else. This plants a seed of optimism in her, and ultimately helps her start to pick up the pieces of her life.
White Reindeer is a simple tale made more remarkable by the cast of previously unknowns giving excellent performances. The focused energy and humility Hollyman brings to Suzanne compels us to watch laughing as she jumps into every new pitfall eschewing her old values to find meaning during her grief. With that said, some of the peripheral characters are so one-dimensional, and played by actors with so little discernible talent, it took me out of the moment several times. All in all, this will be a nice addition to the family Christmas schlock to stain the screen in the coming weeks. I doubt it will become part of the canon of holiday films to play in the background during family tree-decorating, but I say it’s always nice to have a dark comedy in the seasonal mix to keep us grounded.