Wendigo (2001) Movie Review

Horror movies that put young children in the middle of supernatural events to be terrorized as their parents sit idly by in the next room are nothing new. Although there does seem to be a noticeable increase in this particular premise of late, as films like “Darkness”, “Darkness Falls”, “They”, and now “Wendigo” can attest to. What is it about putting young children in the dark and having them be terrorized by supernatural forces that filmmakers are so obsessed with? Is it the reliving of one’s childhood, when imagination gives way to reality? If so, then I wish they’d stop it, because the premise is getting really tiresome.

“Wendigo” stars Erik Per Sullivan (“Malcolm in the Middle”) as Miles, the only child of professional New York City busybodies Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and George (Jake Weber). The family’s life gets a bit complicated after a trip upstate to stay at a friend’s cabin turns bad when the family car broadsides a deer fleeing a group of hunters. One of the hunters is Otis (John Speredakos), who just screams “psycho redneck” from every pore of his clich’ appearance and demeanor. And oh, young Miles meets a wise Native American type who may or may not really exist, but who gives him a wood carving of the mythical Wendigo creature.

Mostly contemplative and low energy, “Wendigo” still succeeds when nothing happens. The dynamics of the family is what is most intriguing, from the imaginative Miles to his sensitive mother to his moody father. There’s love here, but also a lot of exasperation and more than a little self-involvement. These people would rather spend their time on everything but each other, and their total disregard and disinterest in their neighbors eventually comes back to haunt them.

The city folks share similar prejudices with the locals, even though the two sides don’t realize it. The two are so diametrically opposed that their first encounter nearly ends in violence not because of anything either party does, but because of a basic lack of understanding of one another. Kim and George look on the locals as uneducated rednecks and the locals look on Kim and George as part-time invaders. There’s no attempt at understanding, merely two opposite forces bumping against one another, waiting for the big, inevitable bang to occur.

More drama than supernatural thriller, there’s not much about “Wendigo” that will keep horror aficionados entertained. Even the movie’s awkward inclusion of the Wendigo myth (which seems rather odd calling this part of the film “awkward” considering the film’s title) will not satisfy those coming into the movie for horror elements. There are only two brief scenes of violence toward the end, and only one really counts as a violent encounter. And the third, involving the Wendigo creature, may or may not actually have occurred.

As for the Wendigo itself, when we finally see it there is nothing to write home about. Of course it should be noted that the appearance of the Wendigo was probably not supposed to be scary, but rather a young boy’s interpretation of what a Wendigo is supposed to look like. The movie never really says, one way or another, if the Wendigo actually exists. But considering how little investment Fessenden puts in the myth angle, it’s not surprising that I didn’t really care about the whole “does it or doesn’t it exist” question.

Writer/director Larry Fessenden throws everything including the kitchen sink into the visuals. “Wendigo” is a very good-looking film, even if a brief sequence using handheld cameras early on gets to be a bit tedious. The movie, despite being a slow and laborious character study, still manages to move well. Fessenden proves that he was paying attention in film school when the professors were talking about motifs and themes, and as a result the film’s visualization is swarming with secondary and third meanings — that is, if one cares to pick them out.

Don’t go into “Wendigo” expecting a horror movie. Despite the title, the film is more about man’s interaction, and lack thereof, with one another than it is about a mythical beast. The film is never scary, but rather shocking in its nonchalant attitude toward human nature and violence.

Larry Fessenden (director) / Larry Fessenden (screenplay)
CAST: Patricia Clarkson …. Kim
Jake Weber …. George
Erik Per Sullivan …. Miles
John Speredakos …. Otis

Buy Wendigo on DVD