The trailer for writer/director Zach Clark’s White Reindeer doesn’t seem to feature any cocaine use, but it might as well. Depicting the grievous unraveling of formerly sunny Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman), who suffers the death of her husband before finding out he was having an affair with an exotic dancer (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough), this offbeat holiday comedy and SXSW favorite seems primed to throw in the kitchen sink when it comes to Suzanne’s self-medication. If the clip shows us Suzanne dancing, drinking, and buddying up with the other woman, then the poster reveals what else the widow is imbibing, forming the silhouette of a Christmas tree from lines of cocaine. It may well be that the titular term is a euphemism for blow that I’m not aware of, and it may well be that that white powder isn’t cocaine at all. (Who’s to say Suzanne isn’t breaking bad with a little meth?) Either way, this notably naughty poster serves to place White Reindeer among the ranks of other transgressive yuletide flicks. Almost immediately, it calls to mind the Criterion cover art for Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, which is also given the Tannenbaum-by-substance treatment, shaping a tree from the dark dramedy’s ever-present cigarette smoke.
Though it’s hardly as striking as the official one-sheet, there’s also an alternate poster for White Reindeer, which is a true, borderline-Lynchian curio. Illustrated, it shows Suzanne as a broach-rocking, modern evocation of the Virgin Mary, clutching a candy cane and standing wreathed in a string of Christmas lights (it kinda recalls the electrified ad for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, another film whose season’s greetings come with a punch). While the initial White Reindeer poster rests the sale of its content on the Richard Brody pullquote, “An instant holiday season counterclassic,” this one employs the provocative, WTF tagline, “Christmas is a feeling in her _________.” Fill in the blank, kids.
In fact, filling in the blank is precisely what Suzanne seems to be doing. With her husband gone, and her notion of who he was obliterated, she’s left with a void that has to be filled in some way. Hell, perhaps in every way. Has Christmas become a feeling in her altered brain thanks to various substances? Is it a feeling in her limbs amid a 3 a.m. spin on a nightclub dancefloor? Is it a feeling in her netherlands thanks to a little grief-numbing nookie? More than anything, the tagline’s best space-filler is probably “memory,” where Christmas seems to have been a feeling for Suzanne for far too long. The opening of the trailer is brimming with dread, as Suzanne, like so many middle-class celebrators, rattles off all the things she wants Christmas to be. It’s an ominous setup for disaster. Suzanne’s tradition-rooted expectations are as lethal as any drug, and their undoing is the root of any great comedy that sticks it to “holiday cheer.” Uttering a phrase every tree-decorator thinks or says at some point, Suzanne whines in the trailer, “I just want it to feel like Christmas.” “Christmas is whatever you want it to be,” a friend replies, meaning that Christmas, of course, shouldn’t have to feel like anything in particular. Perhaps when Suzanne completes her cathartic and “sinful” rebirth, Christmas will merely be a feeling in her sore sinuses. Because if the poster is any indication, she’s been busy: laying a finger aside of her nose, and giving a nod, up her nostrils the relief goes.