"Wendigo" borrows heavily from a number of landmark horror films, but its tale of a family of Manhattanites on an upstate vacation gone horribly wrong is smart and creepy.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
It's no small coincidence that the original poster art for "Wendigo" looks exactly the same as the poster art for "The Blair Witch Project" (a low-angle shot of a scared-looking face backed by trees) since the film is clearly marketed at the same audience that made that supernatural horror film from 1999 a runaway hit.
"Wendigo" (pronounced "Wendy-go," and not to be confused with the cheesy 1996 horror flick "Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo") is similar to "The Blair Witch Project" in a number of ways with the main difference being it's actually quite good. In addition to mimicking "Blair Witch's" emphasis on implied rather than explicit horror, "Wendigo" also borrows intelligently from the likes of "The Evil Dead" and "Deliverance," with the former's cabin in the woods here replaced by a rented farmhouse in the Catskills where urban Manhattanites Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and George (Jake Weber) head with their eight-year-old son Miles for a long relaxing weekend.
|Written and directed by: Larry Fessenden.|
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, Erik Per Sullivan, John Speredakos, Christopher Wynkoop, Lloyd Oxendine, Brian Delate, Daniel Sherman, Jennifer Wiltsie, Maxx Stratton, Dash Stratton, Dwayne Navara, Shelly Bolding, Susan Pellegrino, James Godwin..
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
From the back seat of their peacock blue Volvo station wagon, Miles (a well cast Erik Per Sullivan, fresh from TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") watches as his parents accidentally hit a deer, and then witnesses the buck's mercy killing at the hands of some backwoods hunters, who emerge from the trees and start making things uncomfortable for these hapless city folk. Freaked out by the day's events, not to mention the too-close-for-comfort proximity of their deer-slaughtering neighbor (John Speredakos), Miles heads into town with his mother the next day where a mysterious man in a thrift shop tells him about the Wendigo, an all-consuming Native American spirit that, following the events of the night before, is about to be unleashed (the man gives Miles a small wooden carving part man, part beast which the boy clutches to his chest, immediately convinced of its metaphysical powers).
Whereas Larry Fessenden's film is far from innovative in the plot department (it's a little too much like all those other films combined), the family scenes are convincingly played, with Sullivan projecting just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence. In addition, the director employs a variety of visual techniques to help animate his story, including puppetry, stop-frame animation, and time-lapse photography. These techniques are especially effective in turning the most benign of situations into true tension-laden sequences shadows on a wall, for example, or a throwaway expression of surprise, or even a simple card game are all given an extra creepy dimension by Fessenden's inventive camerawork, staccato editing, and creative use of sound.
And outside, in the backwoods, Fessenden brings his "Wendigo" to life with considerable ingenuity and restraint, allowing the fear to build through glimpses and trickery, as branches, tree limbs, and deer carcasses take on both frightening and surreal proportions.
Distributor note: "Wendigo" is the first release from the revamped Magnolia Pictures, formerly known as the Shooting Gallery Film Series, which brought us the intriguing independents Croupier, Judy Berlin, and Barenaked in America among others. As inaugural events go, Larry Fessenden's "Wendigo" is creepy, entertaining stuff.
|MARCH 4, 2002|
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