LFF: White Bird in a Blizzard review

White Bird in a Blizzard may quite obviously be a Gregg Araki film, with teens exploring their sexuality, heightened drama, David Lynch influences and impeccable but rather extravagant costuming and soundtrack choices, but it actually feels like a particularly restrained and nuanced example of his work. Araki does have a tendency to throw everything at the wall, but here he takes aim more carefully than is usual.

On the surface, the film is a thriller, even a whodunnit of sorts, that builds a small measure of suspense out of a suburban mystery. Shailene Woodley plays Kat Connor and her mother is played by Eva Green, with the mystery revolving around the mother’s disappearance. These genre elements, however, are simply the groundwork upon which Araki builds a complex, fascinating character piece about a teenage girl.

There are a number of flashbacks, dream sequences and some rather perfunctory expositional scenes in which Kat sees a therapist, but this isn’t where the real substance lies and, in fact, it’s really easy to figure out the many twists – apart, perhaps, from the last one. Instead, this film rewards the viewer by taking them into Kat’s emotional state following the traumatic event, and her more varied experiences as a young woman.

Some powerful scenes focus on Kat dealing with body image issues. Her best friend Beth (Gabourey Sidibe) remarks at one point that Kat still thinks of herself as a “fat girl.” Woodley does an excellent job of layering Kat’s different behaviour across different social and private situations. Kat is complicated character that Araki does an excellent job investigating and Woodley does a fine job portraying.

One scene features Kat seducing the police officer investigating her mother’s disappearance, played well by the ever-dependable Thomas Jane. Thanks to Woodley’s ability to seem at once both super-confident and still a young girl, the moment takes on a very disquieting edge. Araki lets the scene play out slowly and without fuss, with an electrical charge building in the air as the events, which are both incredibly erotic but also creepy, steadily unfold.

This is yet another intelligent exploration of teenage anxieties from a director who really seems to have remarkable understanding of those specific tensions. Viewers who are too focused on the mystery may come away a little dissatisfied, and some weaker scenes suffer from adult characters with wobbly dialogue, but but there is a lot more to this atmospheric thriller than a whodunnit and the teen-eye view is sharp and sophisticated.

White Bird in a Blizzard is available on VOD in the US now and while Altitude will be releasing the film in the UK, they’ve yet to publish a release date.