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26 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

A poetic horror film

9/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
13 February 2005

Kim (Patricia Clarkson), George (Jake Weber) and son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) are headed to the country for winter weekend relief from Manhattan's bustling metropolis. On the way, they hit a buck and end up stuck in the snow. A group of hunters who were tracking the buck come along. Rather than helping, at least one of the hunters, Otis (John Speredakos), is mad because the accident cracked the buck's antlers. George, Kim and Miles are disturbed by Otis, and even worse, we quickly learn that Otis has learned where they're staying. Meanwhile, Miles is given a wendigo (a kind of Indian shape-shifting spirit/monster) token by an Indian whom only he has seen. Is Otis a psycho out to get our heroes? Are there wendigos in the woods?

I can see where Wendigo would have a number of problems appealing to viewers. It is a fairly low budget film, with technical limitations frequently showing through. Much of the film, and maybe all of it, is not really about the titular creature. And perhaps the fatal blow for many people, it has a very ambiguous ending, with a number of questions left unanswered. If you are discouraged by such endings, and you do not like films that have an aim of making you think about and discuss what everything meant, do yourself a favor and avoid Wendigo.

Personally, I like films like that. I usually prefer some ambiguity. The marketing of Wendigo is geared towards those who want a quick, scary creature flick, where they'd expect a grand battle with some supernatural monster who is defeated in the end, and everything is tied up neatly except for an opening for Wendigo 2: The Monster Returns, but that's not what this film is. Wendigo is much more thoughtful and poetic than the surface of such a creature flick would suggest to most people. Heck, writer/director Larry Fessenden even has a character, George, reciting Robert Frost. The Frost poem, and George's comment that Frost can evoke complex imagery and atmosphere out of seemingly simple things, is the key to the film.

One of the best things about the film is its complexity. In a way, there are four different films occurring at the same time, a thread from each character. In George's thread, he isn't exactly the happiest or most pleasant guy in the world, and he has some parenting problems. For him, the film is a realistic, horrific descent of his life going from bad to worse. In Patricia's thread, she's looking for rejuvenation of her life and family. She's a psychologist mostly denying the problems around her, hoping that they'll go away and get better. In Otis' thread, he's even more down on his luck than George, and George's arrival into his life symbolizes the final "crack" in his psychological armor. And in Miles' thread, which is probably the most important of the film, life is like a grand poem due to his youthful innocence and interpretation of the world. But this is a horror story, after all, albeit one with a glimmer of hope, and the events in the film give Miles' poetic interpretations a dark turn. Still, when everything is said and done, he seems to be the only one retaining his composure, due to the poetic outlook.

Even though the film is low budget, there are a lot of well-executed higher budget ambitions. Fessenden and director of photography Terry Stacey find some great shots in beautiful locations, and created some interesting slide show like montages (such as the cards, or the Indian wendigo images from the book). There are also interesting more traditional montages, such as Miles' nightmare. Wendigo is better shot and edited than many big budget films.

Other technical aspects are good for the budget. The "Wendigo" appearance at the end worked for me and was appropriately ambiguous. The lighting was usually good--there were a few times that dark scenes weren't as clear as they could have been, but it seemed to be more of a problem with the film stock (it could have been digital instead) or transfer. I thought the performances were good and far more realistic (if you value that) than the majority of films. Although I didn't really notice the score, it must have been okay, or I would have noticed it with a negative judgment.

Overall, Wendigo is a very good film that deserves to be watched without preconceptions, as long as you don't mind having to think about the movies you watch.

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13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Indian folklore

7/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
15 October 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Larry Fessenden has been thrashed by most of the comments on this forum. Well, the worst mistake, evidently, is the marketing of the movie and the way the DVD might have been targeted. Obviously, this is not a true horror movie, at least, not for people expecting anything that will be gory and instantly satisfying.

"Wendigo" is basically a film that seems to be told from the mind of the young Miles. Things that are not readily understood by children tend to stay in their young minds and ultimately dominate their fears and the menacing world they can't comprehend. It is obvious that Kim, the mother, is a psychologist, but she has no clue to what is going on in the mind of her son. This is also a story of alienation. It's clear that the father, George, is a distant figure, perhaps a workaholic, who seems to be living in a different world.

Miles' fears reach a point of crisis during the week end in the country. That part of New York state, with its winter landscape, barren trees, play havoc on the little boy's imagination. It doesn't help that he encounters a strange figure in town, it creates even more doubts in his young mind. Ultimately, Miles' world comes crashing down on him and he can't do anything, even evoking the Wendigo spirit.

The film is well paced and acted. Patricia Clarkson is excellent, no matter where movie she is in. Jake Weber is perfect as the distant father who has an opportunity to come closer to a son he doesn't understand. Erik Per Sullivan, as Miles, conveys the inner turmoil within him. I thought he was extremely effective since the whole movie is Miles own take on what's going on around him. Finally, John Spredakos is perfect as the menacing Otis, a man who resents the world for the way he has turned out.

Instead of putting this movie down, future viewers should approach it with a open mind.

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15 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Is it in your head, or is it really out there?

8/10
Author: BroadswordCallinDannyBoy from Boston, MA
5 October 2005

This is one of those unique horror films that requires a much more mature understanding of the word 'horror' in order for it to be appreciated. The main thing people may fail to realize that this story is told through the point of view a little boy and, as with most younger children, he gets frightened easily. Mainly because he simply doesn't understand things, like why his father is hardly ever there for him. From watching the film you can see the husband arguing with his wife the balance between work time and family time and you can easily understand it, but the little boy doesn't. Also one can imagine the boy being afraid of the woods, as it is established early on in the film, that the family is from the city. Also, in the beginning as the family is traveling to the house they hit a deer, then get held up, then they argue with the locals about it, and the little boy surely didn't find this introduction to the woods pleasant at all.

The "Wendigo" is ultimately what his young, innocent mind fabricates to explain all of this. There is the American Indian legend, but when looking at the scene where the young boy hears about about it, it is explained to him like bluntly and simplistically. Not because that's what the Wendigo actually is, but because that is how he understands it. When you look at the film from this point of view you can really begin to appreciate it. Obviously it was low-budget and shot cheaply, but the jumping montages, use of light, and general eeriness more than make up for it. And the final question the film asks is: is it all in your head, or is it really out there? 8/10

Rated R: profanity, violence, and a sex scene

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9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Satisfyingly Creepy Psychological Horror

8/10
Author: Gafke from United States
2 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you like horror movies with lots of blood and gore, tons of jump-scare moments and unrelenting, escalating scenes of excruciating death, then look elsewhere. If you like quiet, moody, thoughtful horror which casts blood aside in favor of a genuine feeling of dread, then Wendigo is for you.

Thoughtful, stressed out George, his psychoanalyst wife Kim and their young son Miles are heading out to the snowy countryside for a long weekend vacation away from the city. On the way up, George hits a stag with his car. The hunters who had been pursuing the deer are not thrilled when they find that George has ended their chase. In particular, deranged hunter Otis takes it personally. He follows the family to their vacation home, making sure they see him. He spies on George and Kim as they have sex. He fires through their windows with his rifle when they aren't home, letting them discover the ominous holes in their windows and walls when they return. When Kim takes Miles to the drugstore in town, Miles is attracted to a small sculpture in a display case, carved to resemble a man with the head of a stag. A Native American man tells Miles that this is the Wendigo, a spirit of the woods who has a taste for flesh and is always hungry. Miles takes the figure home with him, already haunted by the death of the deer the day before. That afternoon, when he and his father go sledding, George is shot and Miles pursued through the woods by a creature barely glimpsed...or is he just in shock, and imagining the whole thing? Hours later, George is rushed to the hospital and Miles, still clutching his statue, either faints, dreams or goes on a vision quest, in which the Wendigo returns. This time the angry, flesh eating god - part tree, part stag and part man - is hunting for Otis, who has finally gone over the edge.

Wendigo is a beautifully made film, almost totally silent but for the wind howling through the snow covered trees. Okay, so the monster itself is kind of fakey-looking, but it's a small flaw, more than made up for by the genuine feeling of tension and dread that creeps through every frame of the film, and the eerie backdrop of the silent, snowy countryside. The performances are great, particularly by Jake Weber as the moody and thoughtful George and Patricia Clarkson as his sweet but no-nonsense wife. They are a happy couple with their share of common problems, and it is the strength of their relationship and their love for each other that makes this film powerful. Watching this film is often like watching someone's home videos, so realistic are the performances.

This movie is not for everyone. A lot of people may find themselves totally bored, waiting for the hideous Lovecraftian Beast and bloody revenge that never come. We can never really be sure if the Wendigo even exists, seen as it is through the eyes of a sensitive child and also, later, through the eyes of a madman. This is more a psychological drama than a horror film, but it has more than enough creepy elements in it to satisfy fans of subtle horror.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Boring...

Author: jharrismo from Springfield, MO
25 January 2003

I like horror movies a lot and have seen a great many of them. I rented this movie with misgivings which were, alas, justified. For approximately the first hour, very little happened. A couple & small child driving along the woods hit a deer then encounter some hunters, one of whom has a screw loose. Words are exchanged and the family eventually gets unstuck from the ditch they ran into after hitting the deer. After that, for about an hour, not much happens.

A horror movie, above all, should not be boring, and this one is. All that happens occurs in the last 1/2 hour.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

Author: Zen Bones from USA
27 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Important to know straight off -- this isn't a horror film or a creature feature. This is a film about that two-headed coin: fear and faith. It's about what our minds conjure up when we let our fears get the better of us, and it's about what our minds conjure up when we hope or pray. As many people have said, this film takes its time in bringing on 'the monster'. Seemingly, that is so, but if you put away the usual limited way of looking at horror movies, you will realize that the 'monster' appears fairly early on in the film. You can't see it; you only feel its presence. If you were paying attention, you'll know that the Wendigo isn't a monster, it's a spirit, and it can change its size and shape at will. The catch is……. the will does not belong to the Wendigo, it belongs to those who conjure the Wendigo. If the imagination holds on to fear, the Wendigo will take the shape of that fear, like a chimera. It may appear as drops of blood, or as a sudden gust of snow, or as a giant deer with dragon breath (notice that the reason the 'monster' image of the Wendigo looks rather cheesy is because that is all a very young boy can muster in his mind. Chances are, the little boy's parents haven't let him watch "Alien" yet!). If it is hope you need to conjure, the Wendigo will go where you want it to go and be what you want it to be (the father's description of how "easily" he got to the house after he'd been shot sounds like he had a little help there!). The Wendigo will also create havoc for those who deserve a nasty fate. It cannot kill, but it can create enough fear in a person to drive himself (in one case, literally) to his own demise. In other words, what devours us isn't a boogie man with sharp teeth, it is our fear that devours us.

There is a reason that this film spends most of its first hour in the presence of the family as it goes through everyday rituals and discussions. There is a tension that is penetrating that normalcy. We - and the characters at different times - are aware of the bullet holes in the walls, of the menacing presence of the creepy neighbor, and of the resonating grisly demise of that deer on the road. The father's feeling of helplessness gets triggered against his wife and son. The Wendigo takes the form of that aggression too. Before the father goes on the sled we see him playacting murdering his son. It is a game, and his son is never realistically threatened, but the father needed to do this in order to vent out his aggression (subconsciously of course). The film smartly tells its story from the viewpoint of the young boy. Smartly for one reason because it is the core of fear that really scares us, and that core began at a very young age. Remember the shadows in the corner of your room that seemed to swallow up the furniture with their darkness? Remember the overcoat that limply hung on the closet door looking like a hanging dead man? Or how about the breeze outside your house that whistled through the branches as they clawed at your window? They're all innocent and harmless things, yet we practically scared ourselves to death as kids by letting our imaginations (our little Wendigos) run wild. The film also is smart to tell its story through the little boy because he is going to learn something that he will take with him into adulthood. He will face death and embrace it and let it go (the scene in the hospital where his father is in surgery, and then after the father dies). It is a rite of passage. The little boy will now be able to fill his father's shoes (metaphorically, despite the literal image!).

This movie is the stuff of myths. It is what horror originally was in the movies. Today with terrorists and serial killers, it's easy to get lost in horror as 'reality'. Slasher movies have championed the literal with realistic special effects, offering little to feed our need for fantasy. If you look back into your childhood, you will find what you yourself planted there long ago. Your imagination. Your appreciation for this movie will depend on how much of that you have retained.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Everyone knows it's Wendigo!

Author: GroovyDoom from Haddonfield, IL
21 July 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

POSSIBLE SPOILERS

"Wendigo" falls squarely into the genre of what I like to call "The Killer Credits". That's where you're still waiting for something to happen when all of a sudden, BAM---there are the end credits! They hit you like a ten-ton runaway truck. In fact, the biggest moment of dread in "Wendigo" is the moment JUST before the end credits begin. There is a moment of blackness, and the musical cues tell us that something has just come to an end. In a split second, we realize, this is it...it's over...the credits are going to start and I'm still waiting for something to happen! No! STOP! Don't do this!! Then the first one slips across the screen, and you realize all is lost.

This is a real shame, because up until the final third of the film, "Wendigo" builds a delicious atmosphere of dread. I kept waiting for something terrible to happen. Something does, but it's not the something that we've been led to expect. In another movie, this might have been intriguing, even welcome. In this one, it just plain sucks. I am still reeling over this film and trying to place the exact moment where it went wrong.

The plot concerns a small family on a weekend getaway to a friend's cottage in the Catskills. Kim and George are typical fast-lane New York parents (she's an analyst, he's a photographer), and their small son, Miles, is a quiet kid who seems to have attended the same private school as Haley Joel Osment.

The family runs afoul of some "locals" when they hit a deer that runs across the road in front of their car. The deer is being stalked by three hunters, one with the ominous moniker of "Otis", so we know this is a bad thing. The hunters, especially Otis, are angry because the buck's antlers are chipped from the impact, therefore devaluing it. Words are exchanged and once the family gets to the cottage, they discover bullet holes in some of the windows.

While the family is foraging for groceries in town, a mysterious "Indian man" appears and gives Miles a weird animal statue, explaining to him the legend of the Wendigo--a vengeful spirit who consumes flesh and is part man, part animal, part tree...or whatever else happens to be around.

To tell more would be to spoil the movie's one big surprise, so I won't give away what really happens. What I will tell you, though, is that this is the kind of movie where weird, scary things happen, and they turn out to be hallucinations. For instance, Miles sees a man emerge from his closet and point a gun at him. No danger...hallucination. There are noises in the attic and the retractable stairs bow outward ominously, as if something up there wants out...hallucination. Miles has a vision while riding his sled...hallucination.

Then before we know what hit us, we're in the film's final stages. A non-supernatural threat is revealed, and the fearsome legend of the Wendigo turns out to be just a couple of vague appearances and the inability to inflict any kind of real harm on a human being. We do see it, and it looks like a giant deer walking on two legs. It's creepy...at least I thought it was...but that's all.

I think the movie's crucial misstep was the ghostly man's description of the Wendigo. We as the audience have been tricked into thinking the Wendigo is going to cut loose on these people, or at least on somebody in the film, and it never really happens. It's a letdown, and by the time the events of the ending unfold, we're tapping our feet nervously, waiting for some Wendigo action.

And then those killer credits come, signaling the death of the movie. It was a nice try, but after all the buildup, the conclusion of the film feels like a cheat. But that dramatic pause in the blackness, KNOWING those credits were coming but not wanting to accept the fact that the movie was really over? Terrifying.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Pretty Good, But Could Have Been Better!

Author: tom sawyer (sawyert2003@yahoo.com) from Waterford, Michigan
14 January 2003

The movie was pretty good. Entertaining to say the least. I just expected a little more wendigo like the title mentions. Story and acting are pretty good and entertaining. A lot of open ended items in story. This is a decent movie and a good for a rental. I was a little disappointed it wasn't more of a horror flick. The wendigo in legend is supposed to have an insatiable appetite that grows as it does. The more it eats the more it has to eat and so on. It also smells bad like that of rot, and decay and death. Like I said it is pretty good, I just expected the Wendigo to play more of a part in the movie like the title says.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

An "angry" spirit haunts the Catskills

8/10
Author: Wuchak from Ohio/PA border
7 November 2012

"Wendigo" (2001) is a story about a couple from New York City who take a weekend trip to the Catskills in the middle of winter. A local hunter takes a disliking to the husband (Jake Weber) while the couple's son becomes increasingly concerned about their environment and a Native American legend -- the Wendigo, an angry spirit that can manifest as man, beast, tree or wind.

"Wendigo" is not a conventional creature feature so if you're looking for a typical monster flick look elsewhere. The movie has a slow build-up filled with mundane drama, which some have criticized. Yet this is reminiscent of films like "The Birds," where the main characters and a sense of realism are well established before things get going.

"Wendigo" is a mood piece more than anything else. The mysteriousness of the lonely Catskill woods is evoked along with a sense of wonder and fear of the unknown. It's a vibe more akin to "The Mothman Prophecies" than "Ogre."

Like "The Mothman Prophecies" "Wendigo" is somehow a pleasure just to watch (as long as you're not psyched-up for a monster-slasher flick). There's a quiet style and expertise to the filmmaking that smacks of professionalism.

Patricia Clarkson is effective as the wife/mother and little Erik Per Sullivan is excellent as the son, Miles.

Interestingly, none of the special effects were done with CGI, but rather cinematic techniques, costumes, make-up and creative editing. It works for me.

The film leaves the viewer somewhat scratching his/her head with its ambiguity. What conjured up the Wendigo? What's its purpose? How exactly does it "devour" people with its unquenchable hunger? Etc. Obviously if you like everything spelled out for you and don't like banging your head this is not the film for you.

The film was shot in the Catskills, NY, and runs 91 minutes.

GRADE: B+ or A-

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION (***SPOILER*** Don't read further if you haven't seen the film)

Children are more sensitive to the spiritual realm because they haven't yet built up years of intellectual blockades along with social conditioning. It's clear that Miles senses malevolent creatures or spirits around him, which is why he and his mother check the closet and underneath the bed before he goes to sleep.

The Wendigo is a spirit and can only manifest in the physical realm through an agent who releases the spirit through BELIEF. The Wendigo souvenir plays a role in the Wendigo's manifestation because it was created by someone who BELIEVED in the Wendigo; it's in essence an article of worship and, in a sense, an idol. Hence, the Wendigo is attracted to the figure, which can inspire BELIEF in certain individuals, like Miles.

The ghostly Native American in the souvenir shop is obviously the Wendigo in human form. He's attracted to Miles because he senses belief and therefore guides the boy to the Wendigo figure and explains the "legend." He says, "No one believes in spirits anymore," but after sharing the story of the Wendigo he asks the boy if he believes, to which Miles responds, "I guess so." This wasn't much, but it was all the Wendigo needed. The boy gets his mother to purchase the statue and thus the Wendigo is released into the physical realm to devour human prey.

The Wendigo is an evil spirit and therefore a liar. In Indian form he claims that such spirits are not "bad" just "angry." In other words, he makes excuses for his malevolent actions. Our prisons are full of people who do the same thing.

Once released, the Wendigo immediately inspires Otis to shoot the husband and, later, kill the cop. The Wendigo then goes after the very person he used, Otis, which shows that evil spirits will readily use you if you're willing and then lose you. Why didn't the Wendigo provoke someone else? Because evil spirits can only utilize those who are ALREADY given over to the dark side of their natures. The film shows that Otis was already an arrogant SOB and potential psycho. He doesn't go "over the edge" until AFTER the Wendigo is released.

If you're wondering why the Wendigo required belief to manifest in the physical realm, just think about it: It's the same way with God. The bible says that "without faith it is impossible to please God." Faith is the key that activates God on our behalf, answers prayer, heals and moves mountains. Why would we think it's any different with spirit beings who aren't benign? The difference is that when they are released through belief they cause havoc and destruction rather than blessing.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A flawed attempt of making an intelligent horror movie...

6/10
Author: José Luis Rivera Mendoza (jluis1984) from Mexico
14 June 2006

Larry Fessenden is an independent director who has focused his career in making horror movies with philosophical and existential subtexts. Despite his sparse production (four movies in 16 years), his original approach to the genre and the quality of his work has given him recognition and praise in festivals and in the independent scene. "Wendigo", the third of his horror-themed films is probably the weakest of them, but it has many of the unique characteristics of Fessenden's film-making that make it stand out among the genre.

A young family of three heads to upstate New York hoping to spend a time relaxing hoping to relieve from the stress from the city. However, they find problems as they find an angry local named Otis (John Speredakos) who is not very happy with having them as neighbors. His strong and intimidating presence serves as catalyst for the family's inner conflicts and fears, specially those of little Miles (Erik Per Sullivan), whose feelings of loneliness are increased due to the fear Otis creates in him. As he learns about the legend of the Wendigo, Miles will learn to face the harsh world that is out there.

Very loosely based on the Anishinaabe legend of the Wendigo, the movie is a haunting drama mixed with horror that perfectly combines a lucid visual style with a clever storyline. Told from Miles' point of view, the film is genuinely creepy and the snowy landscapes together with the feeling of isolation Miles feels increase the haunting atmosphere of the film. Basing its scares on mood and atmosphere makes the film a rare species among modern horror movies, and the excellent camera-work makes the film look a lot better than other low-budget independent films.

Fessenden visual approach may seem a bit "style over substance" at first, but he takes a good time in developing the characters and their relationships. In fact, the relationships between them are probably the most important thing in "Wendigo". From Miles' distant relationship with his parents George (Jake Webber) and Kim (Patricia Clarkson) to both parents' struggle to keep a balance between job and family's responsibilities. The impact Otis has in the family and the Wendigo's legend work perfectly as plot devices to make the film move.

The lead cast is superb, with Erik Per Sullivan being an excellent actor despite his young age. Jake Webber and Patricia Clarkson show their talent and the three of them have very good chemistry as a family. The rest of the cast is average, but their work is fine considering that the center of the film are our three main characters. The Wendigo spirit, an important part of the plot, is very well recreated and despite its cheap low-budget look, Fessenden camera-work make it work very good.

Sadly, the movie is not perfect and despite having a very strong start, the movie loses steam and by the end it falls short to the expectations built. Larry Fessenden offers a creative and actually haunting film that is severely hurt by the lack of a competent conclusion, a shame if one considers that the characters are very well developed and the plot has lots of potential. The fact that the use of atmosphere, visuals and audio is superb makes the weak ending the more disappointing. It feels as if Fessenden had not cared about how to finish the tale as the movie feels incomplete.

"Wendigo" has been hailed as both a masterpiece and as a failure. While the movie has enough good things to be called a great film, it's disappointing pay-off and lack of conclusion are a big stain. In this case the best thing to do is to watch and judge for yourself, just don't expect a typical horror film. 6/10

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