****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+
starring Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, Erik Per Sullivan, John Speredakos
written and directed by Larry Fessenden
by Walter Chaw Larry Fessenden's Wendigo plays like a chthonic rite: it's terrifying in its brutal purity and delicious in its ability to pull domestic trauma into the well of archetype where it festers. The film is a further examination of what William Blake cajoles in his "Marriage of Heaven and Hell"--that "men forgot that all deities reside in the human breast," and it justifies itself beautifully in a Romanticist discussion, a Jungian explication, even a socio-political and historical examination. Wendigo is an extraordinarily thorny film, no question; that it manages to be so without pretension, while providing an experience that is terrifying and gorgeous, is a remarkable achievement. It's why we go to the cinema: to be fed through the eye, the heart, the mind.
Kim and George (Patricia Clarkson and Jake Weber) drive to a friend's home in upstate New York with young son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) to spend a winter's weekend away from the worries of their therapist/photographer lives. On the way, their car strikes a buck chased into the road by a trio of hunters (led by the deranged Otis (John Speredakos)); a tense exchange evolves through the kind of country/city baiting perfected in John Boorman's Deliverance. The tension of these opening scenes (and throughout) is simply extraordinary. Even more impressive, however, is Fessenden's ability to mix the objective with the subjective in the narrative, presenting his horror film as a very literal expression of a child coming to terms with the ugliness of adulthood. Miles first bears witness to cruelty and caprice, then appears to become the arbiter of the kind of savage, allegorical justice that defines most mythological maxims.
Wendigo can be viewed on a literal and a metaphorical level. One can take the events of the film at face value or, more instructively, examine how a child constructs his own sensual world. Watch Miles react to his parents' anger and his father's uncomfortable teasing, how a picture book and a bedtime story fuels his night frights, and a moment when Miles wakes from a dream, pauses at the top of the stairs, and leaps across the open space above the landing to get to his parents' bedroom. The level of humanism and observation in this film is revelatory: it captures the fear so often forgotten in films about the cult of childhood, and it presents a character set that is recognizable and utterly convincing in its subtlety.
It's very possible that the entire third act of Wendigo is a projection of Miles's imagination as it tries to incorporate real events with his interpretation of them. In this way, Wendigo joins last year's crop of reality- and identity-testing films--such modern existentialist masterpieces as Memento and Mulholland Drive. By using the film medium to explore the ever-shifting internal landscapes of faith and identity, Wendigo succeeds and satisfies in a way that few films even think to attempt. It is a stunning character piece, a deeply unsettling horror film, and a meticulously crafted clockwork as spare and tight as a drum. Larry Fessenden's Wendigo, the concluding film of a thematically connected trilogy including Habit and No Telling, is a horror film for smart people and one of the best holdovers from last year. Originally published: February 15, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Simply one of the finest films of this year, Larry Fessenden's Wendigo hits DVD with supplements partially overseen by Fessenden himself. (He even wrote the disc's liner notes.) Artisan presents the movie in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of charming imperfection--a flapping hair at the bottom of the frame here, a speckled optical shot there, it all serves to remind you that Wendigo was a labour of love and devoutly organic in terms of how its special effects were achieved. Contrast and shadow detail are each exemplary, attributes crucial to the picture's final third.
The corresponding Dolby Digital 5.1 track replicates Fessenden's most intricate soundmix yet (supervised by Nick Montgomery and Tom Efinger) with stunning transparency; from Michelle DiBucci's affecting score to the title creature's omnipotent cry, this is an aural feast rich in dimensionality. Fessenden's feature-length, screen-specific commentary begins with a generous explanation of the imagery that opens Wendigo (Lon Chaney's Wolf-Man and a Transformer in battle repose)--here's an artist who admits to wishing that today's audiences were more cerebral but who, by the same token, seems to see little value in taking a defensive position of obscurity. The yakker strikes a nice balance of production anecdote, project backstory, and interpretation, with Fessenden dolloping praise upon his cast and crew above all else.
Far more pretentious, though innocuously so, is Fessenden's and Jeff Winner's 30-minute "Searching for the Wendigo", a combination of mixed-media art project and making-of that's up there with the documentary on David Lynch Don't Look at Me for abstract film tutorial. Although the piece begins with a disclaimer from Fessenden that it's "important to preserve a sense of mystery," very few beans will remain unspilt at the end if you're a careful viewer. An 8-minute interview with Fessenden in which he preaches a realist form of cinema (hear, hear) while joking that he wants to remake his films because he's "haunted by the original vision," plus a still gallery of Brahm Revel's comic book storyboards (laid out in negative (white lines on a busy background) in true annoying Artisan fashion), the director's bio and cast filmographies, and Wendigo's home-video trailer cap off the DVD. Originally published: December 21, 2002.