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Wendigo

Thursday, March 24 @ 9:45pm  |  Brattle Theatre

2001 | USA | 91 minutes
Directors: Larry Fessenden
Screenwriters: Larry Fessenden
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, Erik Per Sullivan

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New York-based horror specialist Larry Fessenden made an underground name for himself with his downtown vampire drama Habit, but the skill for character-based horror he demonstrated there truly found full flower in his next feature, Wendigo. Literally leaving Habit’s urban milieu behind, Fessenden’s film follows a city family—commercial photographer George, his psychiatrist wife Kim and their young son Miles—as they drive to a vacation at a farmhouse in wintry upstate New York.

Before they even arrive, Fessenden establishes a scenario in which upsetting situations can have even direr consequences, as George gets into a confrontation with antagonistic hunter Otis. Already prone to typical childhood fears about monsters, Miles is further unsettled by the encounter. Later, during a visit to a local store, he meets a Native American elder who tells him of the Wendigo, a creature that lives in the surrounding forests. The man gives Miles a Wendigo totem to protect him—but as the film goes on, Miles will learn that mythical terrors can be no match for those of the real world.

One of Fessenden’s achievements is evoking a sense of rural menace without condescending to the region or its people; nor does his depiction of the citified George stoop to obvious yuppie clichés. He elicits strong performances from his actors, with Weber and Clarkson lending nuance to George and Kim, Sullivan just terrific as their observant, sensitive son and Speredakos genuinely menacing as the hunter with a grudge. And thanks to Terry Stacey’s rich cinematography, the stark ominousness of the overcast, snowy days gives way to deep, threatening darkness when night falls, shot through with hues of fire and blood.

Wendigo completed what Fessenden has called a trilogy updating classic monster themes, following Habit and his previous feature, the Frankensteinian No Telling. This is his take on the werewolf myth, one that reworks the old themes without ever being self-conscious about it—and it firmly established Fessenden as a first-class genre filmmaker.

– Michael Gingold
(Abridged from a Fangoria.com review from 2002)