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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.32%
Worth A Look: 2.44%
Just Average36.59%
Pretty Crappy: 34.15%
Sucks: 19.51%

4 reviews, 17 user ratings

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by Brian McKay

"Wendigo, and never come back"
3 stars

The creators of WENDIGO seem to have run into a similar problem that I've been having with the latest draft of my novel. They built up a creepy and atmospheric story, then realized they couldn't figure out how to end it properly. Only difference is, I didn't take a few million in investors money and release a finished product anyway. Of course, if I had a few million in investors money, I'd probably be writing this review from the beach of a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.

Wendigo starts out promising enough, with a yuppie family of three on a snowy mountain road, on the way to a cabin in the mountains. When they strike a deer, their car goes off the road and gets stuck. Then three rednecks come along, and are pissed off because the deer they've been chasing for hours is now a twitching mess at the side of the road, and to make it even worse, the antler's busted from the accident. Shit, how is Cooter supposed to hang a trophy from his wall now, huh? HUH?

But after the obligatory "Deliverance" moment, the hunters pull them from the road and let them go on their merry way, though one of the rednecks, Otis (John Speredakos) still holds a grudge. They get up to their cabin, only to find that someone has shot a couple of their windows out and left bullet holes in the walls. "That's jes how we welcome folks to the nayborhood 'round heah, y'all!"

So, for a long time, the family just chills. The Dad, George (Jake Weber) teaches the kid how to spell, then takes him sledding. Mom Kim (Patricia Clarkson) dotes in a motherly fashion, cooks meals, then puts son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) to bed so that mommy and daddy can have a little quality fireside shag on the couch (while stalker Otis watches and wanks from the front window). There are some fairly spooky-looking shots of snow falling through dead woods, and lots of cool-at-first but eventually silly rapid fire panning still-frame shots of the house. Oh, and Miles starts seeing things. Blood dripping from the cieling, gun-toting maniacs in his closet, that sort of thing.

When they go into town to visit the general store, Miles sees a small wood-carved figurine in a display case. A stereotypical "Mysterious Native American" appears behind the counter and offers Miles the figurine, telling him that it is of the Wendigo, a "hungry and malevolent sprit" that lives in the woods. Sort of the Native American equivalent of The Jersey Devil (though more likely that's the other way around). When Kim sees Miles holding the statuette, and asks where it came from, he points back to the counter and (gasp of shock) no one is there! The girl at the cash register says she's the only one working here today, too! What a mystery we have on our hands! Kim buys him the little figurine anyway and he takes it home with them. Can you guess what's gonna happen next? That's right, more spooky stuff.

Only it's not that spooky. Really. I enjoyed the first hour of Wendigo. Despite the slow pace, I could appreciate the attempts to build a disconcerting atmosphere punctuated by the dark and snowy woods. I also enjoyed the family's interactions, and was glad to see that the principal cast had the acting ability to make the characters feel both believable and worthy of the viewer's care. But then the Wendigo shows up.

First it appears as a towering man-deer creature, a skeleton of bones and dead tree branches that looms menacingly before disappearing. "Okay," I thought. "A bit cheesy, but I can still work with it". But then they had to do it. They had to go show it in it's "full incarnation". Now, with a budget of maybe a few million, there isn't going to be any CGI work to be found anywhere near this project. So what does the final incarnation consist of? That's right, a man in a deer costume. Picture a man in a 7 foot tall deer costume, with tiny little T-rex appendages that pass for arms, and he's trotting around in the snow with his little arms and antlers bouncing about.

First I chuckled. Then I giggled. Then I guffawed. A horror movie can survive the first two, but once you're at the "guffaw" stage, it's over. Whatever atmosphere of horror or suspense you've managed to achieve as a filmmaker has gone right out the window, Boy-o. To make matters worse, it's almost as if they realized just how bad it looked in post, and tried to cover up the silliness with some blurry camera work and stuttering jump-cut edits - which of course just enhances the silliness of it all threefold. And if the goofy deer costume wasn't bad enough, the ending feels flat, tacked on, and ambiguous. Not ambiguous in a good way, like the ending of The Blair Witch Project, but ambiguous as in "I don't know what the fuck I was just watching, but I don't care anymore".

What's interesting is that another low-budget horror film used virtually the same type of costume design for its werewolves - right down to the prosthetic leg extenders the actor uses to add height and give the illusion of a reverse-jointed leg ending in a cloven hoof. So why is it that, despite the inherent cheesiness, the werewolves in Dog Soldiers look much more menacing and effective? Probably because director Neil Marshall realized that the werewolves would be spotted for what they are, and so he took the approach of only showing them for a few seconds at a time, using tricks of light, shadow, and quick cuts to cover up the glaring flaws. Marshall also used male dancers to portray the werewolves, who were able to give them a more fluid and natural range of movement, despite the bulky costumes and clunky appendages. With Wendigo, director Larry Fessenden tries to do the same thing, but doesn't quite pull it off. We see just a little too much of the Wendigo, certainly more than enough to snap whatever filament has been suspending disbelief up to this point. And whoever is filling in the costume is no dancer. It looks like a man who is struggling to walk on prosthetics without tumbling over.

However, visual problems aside, it's hard to say what the point of the Wendigo was. Is it trying to help Miles and his family, or is it stalking them? When it goes after Otis, does it do so out of revenge, or is he merely another random victim. The whole thing makes fuck-all sense, and in the end you won't care enough to figure it out anyway.

Still, I gotta give Fessenden points for trying. Up to the point where the souffle' collapsed, I found myself slowly sucked into the story and the family in danger, which is more than I can say for most crappy horror movies. He's definitely on the right track to making something that's creepy and effective along the lines of BLAIR WITCH, SESSION 9 (which he co-starred in), or THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. It's just going to take a little more than a man in a Bullwinkle costume to get there.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5308&reviewer=258
originally posted: 01/29/03 13:56:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/21/17 morris campbell eerie but cheap effects almost sink it 3 stars
8/07/07 Johnny Spooky enough at first, there ended up being no pay-off, aside from some ho-hum effects. 2 stars
9/24/05 Total Crap CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! This is at the bottom with Fear of the Dark. 1 stars
9/22/05 tatum A horror flick dressed in artsy-fartsy robes; BORING! 1 stars
11/08/04 da hood this is hands down the most borgin movie i have ever seen. worse than GRIND!!!!!! 1 stars
10/14/04 Don Eckert Not Scary. No point to the movie. Just an absolute waste of time. 1 stars
6/20/04 Samuel It wasn't really scary, but it was a decent movie. 3 stars
3/23/04 mark louis baumgart dull, sleep inducing, tedious, what a waste 1 stars
2/10/04 aranthorn from teoti.com Wow, terrible, absolutely the worst 1 stars
2/05/04 jimmy d i was raped by a wendigo! 5 stars
2/02/04 ghost wast of rental fees 1 stars
10/13/03 Jim Supernatural element seems out of place. Wendigoes in the Catskills? Try the Arctic. 3 stars
12/24/02 Uncle Salty Don't waste your time. 2 stars
2/13/02 Daniel dire 1 stars
11/01/01 ryan werner beautifully mysterious, super creepy. 5 stars
5/07/01 Dean Very good film for those with a brain and patience 4 stars
5/03/01 zenny Intense and disturbing. 5 stars
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  13-Feb-2002 (R)



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