B&W, 1952, 67 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Erik Blomberg
Starring Mirjami Kuosmanen, Kalervo Nissilä, Åke Lindman,
VLMedia (Blu-ray & DVD) (Finland R0 HD/PAL), Artus (DVD) (France R2 PAL)
Often classified as a vampire film but a little more off-center than that, The White Reindeer is an eerie and spectacularly filmed addition to the catalog of horror films (in the loosest, artiest sense) about sexual anxiety represented through animal transformation (think Cat People or The Company of Wolves). The world doesn't have too many shapeshifting supernatural epics set against Lapland scenery, but here's one, and it's absolutely worth seeing.
In a snowy Arctic village, Pirita (Kuosmanen, wife of director Erik Blomberg) has been assimilated into the community and is married to respected local shepherd Aslak (Nissilä) despite her status as the daughter of a mysterious sorceress who died in childbirth. Dispirited by her husband's devotion to his job and time away from home and hearth, she goes to a shaman and strikes a bargain for a love potion that will make her an irresistible object of desire. However, it comes at a high cost as moonlight turns her into a white reindeer that draws men out into the wilderness where, temporarily human but with fangs, she dispatches her prey. Local legends inspire the villagers to come up with a novel way to stop the bloodthirsty menace.
Though it only runs a bit over an hour, you could easily write a few term papers about this film's intoxicating portrayal of gender warfare, paganism (represented by Pirita's amazing reindeer bone construction that plays a pivotal role in her transformation), and social pressure. It's also an incredible visual document of the culture, with an early reindeer racing sequence letting you know right off the bat this will be a long, long way from the usual monster movies that had dominated the previous two decades. Despite the fact that the film nabbed prizes at the Golden Globes and Cannes, it's strangely underseen in English-speaking territories and really only known in American to die-hard horror movie fans who had to dig hard to find a copy and even harder to find one useful for English-speaking viewers. However, even without subtitles it's a magnetic experience with Kuosmanen's performance in particular making this an indelible and often unclassifiable experience that's hard to shake.
The first English-subtitled version to hit home video was a French DVD from Artus in 2011 featuring English, French, or Spanish subtitles for the Finnish dialogue. However, the one to really spring for is the beautiful Finnish Blu-ray, which features optional English or Swedish subtitles for the Finnish dialogue (in LPCM 2.0 mono). The restored transfer looks great with only a few very mild blemishes here and there; it's highly unlikely that, barring a 4K release down the road somewhere in the world, it's going to look better than this impressive release. Extras include a 1952 presentation at the Finnish Film Awards (1m9s), a fascinating silent sample of color test footage for the film (1m10s), and "With the Reindeer" (7m49s), a 1949 Blomberg short (again in beautiful quality) showing the vital role of the titular animals in Lapland daily life. The extras aren't subtitled, but it doesn't really matter. The disc can be ordered from the Finnish distributor above, and in the U.S. it is sometimes stocked by L.A. retailer Foreign Exchange Blu-ray Imports (drop 'em a line and ask).
Reviewed on May 26, 2017