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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.32%
Worth A Look: 2.44%
Pretty Bad: 34.15%
Total Crap: 19.51%

4 reviews, 17 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"Great build-up, great let-down."
2 stars

The horror genre is one that's been ripe for a true comeback since before cell phones came about, but despite the Blair Witch Project and the Scream franchise hauling in big bucks at the box office in the last few years, nobody has seemed able (or willing) to put together a truly scary horror film that puts The Fear through an audience. At first glance, those of us who love to be so scared that we lose rectal muscle functions, Wendigo looks very promising. Writer/director Larry Fessenden is undoubtedly a true freak, having already put together art/horror films such as Habit and No Telling, and if the marketing of this film were anything to go by, it would be one scary flick. But marketing lies and first looks deceive. Wendigo, while competent and well shot, is far too aware of itself to get over with an audience, and if a good fright (or even a couple of spine chills) is what you're after, you're going to be waiting a while.

A New York City family of three takes off to the Catskills for a week away from the stresses of work and the big bad city. Then they hit a deer in the road. Then they get the car stuck in snow. Then three local hunters (who are less than happy that the stag they've been hunting for 18 hours has been taken out by a Buick) happen on the scene and start pulling a pseudo-Deliverance schtick. Not a great start to a stress-free vacation, but a decent start to a thriller.

But abandon any thoughts you had of the parents having to watch their kid cooked on a spit, the hillbillys back off and chuckle their way off down the road, having dragged the city folks' car out of its hole.

So the family gets where they're going and… chill. That's pretty much it for the second act - our heroes wander about the house being shaken, and occasionally screwing, maybe cooking a meal or two. The music remains spooky and occasionally they find a bullet hole in a kitchen window, and one of the hillbillys takes the odd short cut across the property with his truck, but aside from a little window peeping when mom and pop are doing the bad thang, there's nothing spooky to speak of. Ooh, the kid sees a ghostly image when he's going to sleep. Big deal, throw enough peyote my way and I'll see them while I'm awake.

The film starts with a Cape Fear style 'family fleeing madman' scenario and if it stayed there it would have been a fine premise. Unfortunately, the director wasn't content with 'fine', and decided to incorporate a decidedly Oliver Stone plot twist involving Native American spookiness.

An old Indian man gives the family's boy a carving of Wendigo, the Indian half man, half beast god who devours everything in his path. Why? Who knows, but the Indian dude disappears when the kid looks again, so we know there's spiritual goings on taking place. At this point we're supposed to get all freaked. I got butt cramp instead.

Now, if you're the patient sort, you're all about letting tension build and to its credit Wendigo does indeed build it. But this drifting off into spiritual territory is baseless, arty and just a little flaky. Why is Wendigo even a factor? What have the injuns got to do with some crazy kook shooting up a holiday home? We're half told that early in the century a bunch of native Americans were moved so that a reservoir could be built, but a series of shots of old lithographs do not a plot twist make, and this device is never mentioned again in the entire film.

Adding to the flakiness is the director's addiction to wacky editing, cutting back and forth between shots like he's playing hot potato with the frame, and having his actors start talking about things that might be pertinent to the story, only to then either get sidetracked or completely wig out.

Cop: "Ma'am, what happened to your husband?"

Mom: "We were driving and we hit a deer and these three guys came out of the woods and WHAAAAAAAA, HOW COULD HE DO THIS?! WHY! WHY! WHY!"

Oh puh-lease, just tell the guy the fricking story.

Matter of fact, storyline issues aside, the performances in Wendigo are admittedly strong. Jake Weber and Patricia Clarkson are both great as the mom and dad and little Erik Per Sullivan (better known as the youngest brother in Malcolm In The Middle) is just the right side of morose. The acting, the woodsy setting, the slow pacing, everything looks like it should be scary as hell. But you can only take slow build-up for so long, eventually you need a pay off of some kind or the audience falls asleep. In Wendigo, the build-up goes right through to the last five minutes of the film itself, which unfortunately consists of the kind of ending that leaves an audience most unexcited. On a film that didn't involve 90 minutes of telling you "here it comes… any minute now," this ending would suck, but on a film that seems to be teasing us along the whole time to some giant pay-off, the 'big finish' splutters like an Edsel with a gas tank full of molasses.

It certainly isn't all bad. Wendigo is admittedly a fair festival film. It presses all the right buttons if the object was to show that Fessenden knows which way to point a camera and light a set, but it's certainly not the kind of film that a mainstream audience could, or should, pay to see. There just isn't enough there.

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originally posted: 05/02/01 09:17:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell eerie but cheap effects almost sink it 3 stars
8/07/07 Johnny Spooky enough at first, there ended up being no pay-off, aside from some ho-hum effects. 2 stars
9/25/05 Total Crap CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! This is at the bottom with Fear of the Dark. 1 stars
9/22/05 tatum A horror flick dressed in artsy-fartsy robes; BORING! 1 stars
11/08/04 da hood this is hands down the most borgin movie i have ever seen. worse than GRIND!!!!!! 1 stars
10/15/04 Don Eckert Not Scary. No point to the movie. Just an absolute waste of time. 1 stars
6/21/04 Samuel It wasn't really scary, but it was a decent movie. 3 stars
3/24/04 mark louis baumgart dull, sleep inducing, tedious, what a waste 1 stars
2/11/04 aranthorn from Wow, terrible, absolutely the worst 1 stars
2/06/04 jimmy d i was raped by a wendigo! 5 stars
2/03/04 ghost wast of rental fees 1 stars
10/14/03 Jim Supernatural element seems out of place. Wendigoes in the Catskills? Try the Arctic. 3 stars
12/24/02 Uncle Salty Don't waste your time. 2 stars
2/13/02 Daniel dire 1 stars
11/02/01 ryan werner beautifully mysterious, super creepy. 5 stars
5/07/01 Dean Very good film for those with a brain and patience 4 stars
5/04/01 zenny Intense and disturbing. 5 stars
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  13-Feb-2002 (R)



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