tue 27/10/2020

DVD/Blu-ray: The White Reindeer | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The White Reindeer

DVD/Blu-ray: The White Reindeer

Ethnographic insight in striking 1953 Finnish horror curio

A lapp lIfe: Mirjami Kuosmanen as Pirita with companion

Finnish horror is a niche genre if ever there was one.

Finnish horror is a niche genre if ever there was one. Erik Blomberg’s directorial debut The White Reindeer is a seminal example, a beguiling, unsettling little film that’s two parts local colour to one part metaphysical thriller. Blomberg cut his teeth making documentaries (one of which is included as an extra in Eureka’s reissue) and if you’re curious to know about rural folk culture in 1950s Lapland, start here. Though set in what was then the present day, you sense that we’re watching a way of life that hasn’t changed in centuries. That Blomberg used a mostly non-professional cast and a minuscule budget adds to the verisimilitude: as seen in this restored print, The White Reindeer looks stunning, the glistening whites and clear skies in sharp contrast to its dark subject matter.

Blomberg’s wife Mirjami Kuosmanen plays Pirita, a feisty young woman who meets and falls in love with her husband-to-be Aslak (Kalervo Nissalä: the couple, pictured below) during a reindeer race. The reality of married life hits home after a boozy wedding: Aslak’s duties as a herder mean he’s largely absent, prompting the frustrated Pirita to ask a snaggle-toothed Sami shaman to cast a love spell. Arvo Lehesmaa’s malign cacklings are deceptive, and his scene with Pirita is chilling, notably when it’s revealed that she’s a witch. Predictably, said spell backfires: slaughtering, as per instructions, her beloved pet, she loses her humanity, sexual desire prompting her transformation into the titular white reindeer. Blood is spilt and accusations are hurled as Pirita struggles to contain her impulses, at one point imploring the Stone God to end her misery. Luscious though she is, Kuosmanen’s eyes brilliantly convey the horror of her plight: she’s never more alluring than in the film’s tragic closing scene.

The White ReindeerBlomberg’s existential terrors are conjured up with little in the way of special effects, the director instead exploiting the possibilities of the frozen Lapp landscape and Einar Englund’s score. Piriti in human form becomes increasingly alienated from her community, witnessed most overtly when she’s in the congregation at a church wedding.

The notion of a cuddly animal having homicidal tendencies might unwittingly suggest the murderous white rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though the reindeer’s seductiveness is surely the point here. Brilliant, in other words, and how refreshing to watch a film so packed with ideas which lasts little more than hour. The White Reindeer was an international success, winning a prize at Cannes in 1953 and a Golden Globe four years later. It should be much better known. Eureka’s reissue looks and sounds superb, bonus features including a 1948 Blomberg documentary short and an audio essay by journalist Amy Adams. The booklet essays, by Alexandra Heller Nichols and Philip Kemp, make fascinating reading, the latter revealing that poor Kuosmanen died tragically young in 1963, Blomberg’s career stuttering to a halt shortly afterwards.

If you’re curious to know about rural folk culture in 1950s Lapland, start here


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters