Director: Erik Blomberg
Like many European countries, Finland has a proud filmmaking tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of motion picture technology. Finnish cinema is best known for two waves: the golden age of the mid-to-late- 1930s, and the revival which began in the 1990s. For my “Finland” entry on this blog, I’ve chosen a film that does not fit into either period, but which has achieved a decent legacy in its home country nonetheless – Erik Blomberg’s 1952 The White Reindeer.
The White Reindeer is a low-budget horror film set in the vast, frozen reaches of Lapland in northern Finland. The Arctic landscapes are beautiful and magnificent, but desolate images of snowbound hills bookend the film as a bleak reminder that nature can also be uncaring and capricious. A haunting rendition of a local folk tune plays over the opening credits. Wild animals are glimpsed only as silhouettes atop distant hills, or as vague, threatening shapes amidst the heavy fog. The film thus takes the rugged realities of life in one of the world’s most extreme environments, and neatly adapts them to the conventions of a well-known film genre.
The plot concerns a young woman named Pirita, who marries a reindeer herder Aslak. One day, while Aslak is away, Pirita visits a shaman in an effort to alleviate her loneliness and frustration. However, the shaman curses Pirita – turning her into a shapeshifting vampire capable of transforming at will into the titular white reindeer. Local men are now captivated by Pirita’s beauty, both in reindeer and woman form, and she uses this fact to lure them in to satiate her newfound bloodlust.
The White Reindeer belongs to the same vein of 1950s shapeshifting horror movies as American classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing. But Lapland has a culture and geography all its own, and this film finds a unique cultural voice by drawing inspiration from the pre-Christian mythology of the region’s indigenous Sami people. It does also elevate its b-movie material with creative visuals, but only very occasionally. A hallucinatory scene depicting Pirita’s first transformation, for example, is shot with the colours inverted to achieve an eerie, surreal effect. Special effects are sparse, so the film relies on atmospheric touches like this to create its unsettling tone. Overall, The White Reindeer is a worthwhile curiosity for fans of vintage horror cinema, made especially interesting by the distinctive national identity that runs throughout it.