4 June 2002 | Screen-Space
Patience best rewards viewers of this Shining-style thriller
As a character-driven chiller, Wendigo is a thoroughly satisfying film, though not one that successfully plays out its early promise. From the establishing shot of a young family driving a winding road into the darkened wilderness I was immediately reminded of The Shining. And if Wendigo doesn't quite display that films polished visuals, it certainly borrows the themes of isolation and familial tension, especially patriarchal, that Kubrick examined so well. Cult director Larry Fessenden has gone back to horror movie basics to achieve a palpable tension in his film: black shadows in every corner of a very-underlit rural house, creaky floorboards, shrieking nighttime winds. His film starts to unravel when he pushes to far - the appearance of the Wendigo, an Indian spirit that travels on the wind, is at first frightening but ultimately overplayed; Fessenden feels compelled to reveal the monster in an extended attack sequence on the films hillbilly badguy, and in doing so belies the slyness with which we had so successfully frightened us up to that point. The ending is particularly murky, both visually and narratively, feeling rushed and a little self-consciously obscure. The cast is uniformly solid: Jake Weber and Patricia Clarkson as the yuppies-in-peril are very real, and 'Malcolm In The Middle' youngster Erik Per Sullivan provides the perfect conduit for audience fear and apprehension. The print I viewed at the recent AFM conference was particularly grainy and I am unsure as to whether this was due to the transfer from HDV-to-film or whether Fessenden shot it like that. Regardless, it proved very effective in creating a sense of dread and foreboding, especially in the early twilight scenes. Also nice to see a film that revels in its ability to scare, not always winking at the audience in a self-mocking "Scream" sort-of way. More often than not lately irony and revisionism have gotten in the way of a good fright, which Wendigo certainly provides.