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Larry Fessenden strives to infuse extremely dramatic stories with a sense of supernatural mystery, showing the magic around us in a cruel and mundane world. At least, that seems to be what he aims for and in a select few spots, he succeeds. Most of the time, however, his films play like dramas that turn into horror films because they don't know where else to go.
It was the same with Fessenden's earlier films, HABIT and NO TELLING. There's definitely an audience for this and he seems to be developing a cult following, just not by me. No, to me his films seem like schizophrenic efforts with tons of padding thrown in, just to be sure.
A yuppie family is out to spend a weekend in the Catskills, no television, no jobs, just simple family bonding (And people wonder why my generation chose to watch TV). At least that's the plan for the first two minutes of the film, before their car smacks head on into a deer. It's a wonder that no one is seriously hurt, and the front of the car is badly mangled, but everyone is okay, except for the car getting stuck in a ditch.
Along come some hunters who were tracking the deer, allegedly to help out. Still, most of them seem to do nothing and one of them, a creep named Otis (John Speredakos - SCHOOL TIES) seems to be passive aggressive enough to get under the family's skin.
Actually, I personally thought that while Otis may have been immature and a blowhard, the family was pretty ungrateful as well. They never seemed to thank the hunters for coming along and staying with them.
Still, this first act does feel authentic. After the accident, nothing major happens, just tiny annoyances that make a typically bad day worse.
Once they get to the cabin, the family tries to adjust. The main focus is on their little boy, Miles (Eric Per Sullivan - MALCOLM IN THE MIDDL ), who we suspect may have some emotional problems although it is never made perfectly clear. His parents have a good marriage, but seem worried about the father's ability to communicate with his son.
Again, not made very clear but it's there.
Somewhere along the way, Miles encounters an American Indian who tells him the legend of the Wendigo, an all-powerful spirit of the forest.
I would love to go into more detail from here, but for the most part, this is the whole movie. WENDIGO is an extremely slow-moving film which focuses mainly on three very dull people who spend a lot of time talking. And talking, and talking, and talking.... In fact, we're a full hour into the film before anything substantial happens. For much of the running time, I kept asking myself, "Is there a film in here somewhere?"
The adult leads, Patricia Clarkson (FAR FROM HEAVEN, THE GREEN MILE) and Jake Weber (AMERICAN GOTHIC, U-571), should be commended. They have to carry this film most of the way and they do an outstanding job. It means a lot that they bring enough genuine emotion to their parts to keep me from giving up on the film altogether.
The first hour of the film is essentially the wind-up for the final act. It supplies the drama that is referenced later on in the most emotional scenes. It's not that I didn't get Fessenden's vision. I just didn't care. The film just seems to ramble along and then with one plot twist, suddenly asks you to care about how everything turns out. To that I say, "What have you done for me lately?"
Fessenden also makes one fatal flaw. By showing most of the film's events through Miles' eyes, he leaves us open to a world of imagination and wonder. For most of the film, everything can be taken either as genuine or a trick of the imagination. The events of the film would be the type an adult Miles would look back on, wondering if it was real or not. But although possibly unintentional, Fessenden does spell things out more than he should in the end, giving us a pretty definite answer over which is which.
Things get almost melodramatic towards the end. It's the kind of chain reaction of events that reminded me of THE REFLECTING SKIN. Thankfully, WENDIGO has none of SKIN's lame dialogue, paper-thin characters or overtly artsy fartsy pretensions.
Which is why, if you're looking for a slow, character-driven indie flick, it may be necessary to give WENDIGO the benefit of the doubt. I personally don't care for Fessenden's work, but he does seem to take great care with the material. Although I react negatively to WENDIGO, it is nowhere near as bad as several other pseudo-horror films I could mention. Still, keep in mind that horror is never foremost on Fessenden's mind and it can be a supreme dissapointment for anyone looking for more than a family trying to resolve their "issues."
You are not getting a horror movie. You are not getting a drama. You are getting a drama that turns to horror because it runs out of options. No doubt, on the highest levels of art house trendiness, but for those who see through such things, it's a colossal waste of our time. Each person is going to react differently to Fessenden and it's best to know what you're getting into.
I knew what I was getting into and shame on me for not listening. This film will no doubt develop an audience of latte-drinking followers. It was my misfortune that I was in more of a black coffee mood when WENDIGO rolled.