ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

002012
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Wendigo (2001)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Larry Fessenden

Starring:
Patricia Clarkson/Kim
Jake Weber/ George
Eric Per Sullivan/Miles
John Speredakos/Otis
7 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
On their way to a remote cabin in the Catskills for some much needed family time, George (Weber), his wife Kim (Clarkson) and their son Miles (Per Sullivan) accidentally hit a deer with their Volvo. The event triggers a psycho hunter’s (Speredakos) wrath and once at the cabin, Miles begins hallucinating scary ass scenarios. And then…there’s The Wendigo doll and the spirit that comes with it.
THE LOWDOWN
Before I proceed with this surgery, I should warn you: this is an “artsy”, maybe even pretentious, horror film and it will not appeal to the masses. If "Ghost Ship" is for you the pinnacle of horror achievement, stay away from this flick because you’ll likely be counting dead sheep while watching this one. Now can the nurse put her top back on and pass me that damn scalpel already!!! LET THE DISSECTION BEGIN!

Not having cared much for Fessenden’s previous genre effort called “Habit”, I didn’t toboggan down to "Wendigo" with much “oowa”. Fessenden’s work is definitely an acquired taste. But much to my surprise, I found myself saying: “Fuck me sideways with a lawnmower” fairly early as Wendigo swiftly snagged me into its trap and kept me there like a dumfounded boar. Not having any sort of knowledge of this picture’s story beforehand also contributed in pulling me deeper into its abyss. I didn’t know what to expect and having warmed up to the peeps in this show fairly quickly, I felt mucho anxious and uneasy in regards to what was going to happen to them.

The film’s biggest assets are, without question, its layered characters and the solid acting/writing backing them up. The kid Miles (Per Sullivan) was my main hook here. Not only did he NOT annoy me (as most kids do) but his low dialogue count and his internalized demeanor communicated so much. I was in his shoes the whole way, being scared when he was scared, feeling sad when he was sad and so forth. That made for a very involving viewing. I also adored the incredibly natural interaction the family unit shared. It felt effortless and more importantly…real. Caring for the family members in all of their displayed flaws and qualities made the whole of the film so much more powerful.

Visual/audio-wise Fessenden goes “Bonzai” on this one by filling the film with unsettling sounds and injecting the images with strong doses of dread from the get-go. My cranium was pleasurably assaulted by all of the sly camera tricks, the 'shroom inspired shots, the atmospheric plays as well as the many chilling hallucination set pieces. I also appreciated how even the non-threatening elements in the house got the horror makeover (loved what was done with the river), all of which made the eerie blanket of darkness wrapping this tale so much thicker and cozier.

Now, for most of the clock time, this potent tablet had me buzzing from every angle. I was grooving on the metaphors, the statements on human nature, the touching moments (yes, I teared up), the few, but powerful, plot twists, as well as the delicious subtext in the dialogue (the scene with the Sheriff and Otis is a great example…wow). Taking all that into account, I was so expecting to be kicked off my couch by the conclusion. I mean, after an hour or so of yummy buildup...let’s get ugly right? Alas, even though the last act pulled at my heartstrings and put out some unique, simple yet effective creature effects (guy in a suit) that we’re fun to witness, I was dead wrong in my assumptions.

The ending highly disappointed me in two respects. First of all, if you’re going to drop a more subtle path to embrace obvious conventions, go all the way, don’t half ass it. The creature shenanigans should’ve gone further! Secondly, I believe that the finale of a film should bring it all home with impact. Here, the film ended so abruptly and without effect that it left me unfulfilled. Leaving it up to my imagination to finish it off was "out of school". I invested myself and then some in this story and not SEEING what was going to happen next gave me a brutal horror hangover. I was PISSED! Maybe that was the point.

Having said all that, no matter how much the cap-off let me down, I couldn’t ignore the priceless goods and the unnerving horror shots which the film had skillfully dealt me during its first hour. That’s talent! Now where’s my Wendigo doll? I need to channel my hate and settle some old scores. Yes, Lyanna…I mean you beeyatch!!
GORE
It’s not a gore party but we still get lots of blood, deer carcasses, stripped meat, a gun shot wound and more.
ACTING
Patricia Clarkson (Kim) was solid as always, hitting all the right notes. Jake Weber (George) also pulled his own with a credible performance. Eric Per Sullivan (Miles) was awesome as the silent child. Relying on stares and physical acting, he communicated so much. John Speredakos (Otis) was very frightening as the loon with the moustache. He played it real and that made him one menacing mofo. Christopher Wynncoop (Sheriff) didn’t do much, but that one scene with Speredakos blew my cock off. The man shined! Now that’s acting!
T & A
Patricia Clarkson strips down to a bra, Jake Weber goes the buff chest way and they both have a steamy nude sex scene together that doesn’t reveal all. Tease…
DIRECTING
Fessenden knows when to pad it up and when to tone it down, always serving the story through his visuals. He does wonders with slow motion and the plays with frame speed. He also goes haywire on the extreme close ups of images (pictures, drawings, playing cards) and the lighting is exquisite in all of its orange, blue, and red glares (props to the cinematographer!). The man also managed to sustain a depressing atmosphere throughout. Good job!
SOUNDTRACK
We get a score that goes from soothing to creepy. We also get some Celtic, tribal-like tunes and a downbeat rock song.
DVD FEATURES
Distributor: Artisan

IMAGE: The widescreen image lacked definition and I also spotted lots of grain in the first half hour.

SOUND: The English 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is clear and the many sounds found in this picture benefited from it big time. We also get an English 2.1 Dolby Surround option.

EXTRAS:

Director Commentary (full length): Larry Fessenden comes in and talks about the many meanings behind his images, addresses specific shots, the influences behind some scenes, the events in his childhood that inspired the film, the nods to other horror films (the name Otis was taken from the film "Henry") and more. The commentary does have some dead time and Larry has his own unique pace, but if you have the patience, some of what he talks about is fairly interesting.

Searching for The Wendigo (~ 32 minutes): This feature takes us through the building of the creature as well as lots of on-set footage shot with a handy cam, during which we get to meet the crew. We also get to see storyboards and the eventual shooting of sequences. This is as close as we’ll get to being on the set of this film. I enjoyed this feature. Got to love film sets and the positive energy which they sometimes display.

Interview with Director Larry Fergussen (~ 9 minutes): Here, Fergussen talks about the roots of the script and the many processes he goes through when making a film. He also gives us some insight as to how he ticks as a director and explains his goals as a storyteller. If Larry warms up to you as a person, you’ll like this interview. If not, you’ll switch off quickly. As for me…well, that’s my business now isn’t it?

We also get the film’s Trailer, an Art Gallery (poster art, storyboards) and a Director and Cast feature.

If you enjoyed the film, this DVD and its extras do it justice. Sure, the image could’ve been better but hey, that’s life.
BOTTOM LINE
"Wendigo" had all the aces in hand during most of this horror game, but when the last call came in, it folded. I was enamored by the depressive feel, the trippy look, the solid actors, the intelligence in the dialogue and the creative, old fashioned special effects though. There’s also such a sense of impending doom floating about this flick and I for one, love that vibe. In a world where everybody seems to be gladly bending over for anal probes of the likes of "Halloween 8", it’s refreshing to see that they still make more mature and challenging horror movies. If you’re in the mood for a character-driven piece that bypasses most of the typical genre conventions to make way for a more surreal, dramatic and unorthodox approach, this one is for you. If not….then…I don’t know…hookers and Cheetos perhaps?
BULL'S EYE
Larry Fessenden also wrote the film and initially considered playing the father, since he is also an actor, having appeared in "Session 9" and "Bringing out the Dead".
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