Entertainment Weekly must be paying Jessica Shaw a lot of money. This week: French Bulldogs are in. So are Fondue pots, almonds and cashmere berets. Ooh-la-la. Shaw also thinks going to the Catskills is in, which means she hasn’t seen the low-budget Wendigo, a tale of domestic discord set on a wintry landscape where Native American myth and a child’s imagination become unlikely murderers. George (Jake Weber), Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and their son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) head up to their weekend cabin only to hit a deer and feel the wrath of uppity hunters. However short Wendigo may be on bloodworks, director Larry Fessenden is an expert mood-setter. Unexplained bullet holes appear all over Kim and George’s cabin, the source of origin almost insignificant next to the method with which the holes are discovered. Fessenden is relentless and unapologetic when it comes to dialogue, forcing the spectator to listen to Kim’s lengthy phone conversations before the woman discovers a small mound of white powder lying next to a sugar container. The entire set piece suggests a bizarro ritual at play; curiously, the sugar’s brand is a Native American one. It’s one of many moments that emphasize the mystique of a land now overrun by cityfolk and their false presumptions. You’ve seen Wendigo before (in Ravenous, on “The X-Files”), though he/she is open to interpretation. Little Miles receives a toy Wendigo from a mysterious Native American at a local thrift shop. Miles goes sledding with his father and they encounter Wendigo on the slopes (here, he’s visualized as a deer/man/tree composite). Wendigo isn’t scary per say, but it’s not Fessenden’s goal to jolt; since the monster is born of myth, its terror is strictly an existential one. In one special-effects sequence, Fessenden literally freezes the film’s deer-loving Catskills natives in time, evoking bloody fairy-tale characters trapped inside a snow globe. George goes missing and Kim is too afraid to ask for help because she fears the townsfolk (they hold deer parts in their hands so they must be dangerous). Fessenden’s narrative is just as much about the ownership and redefinition of myth as it is about a domestic unit finding their way to joy. “I miss Star,” says a sad and nostalgic Kim. She’s lost a daughter or, at least, we think she has (Fessenden never makes it a point to say who Star is). Miles is the spectator’s guide, a young boy trying to own his fears. Slimy hunter Otis (John Speredakos) is an expert manipulator: he taunts the family with a last-minute car-tow (he offers it only after the local gas station’s truck arrives with help) and goes peeping-tom when George and Kim have sex near the fireplace. Otis is ghoulish but sympathetic—he’s resentful that cityfolk have stolen his family’s land. Much like Jessica Shaw did when she decided to tell America that the Hamptons are so five-minutes-ago.
- Magnolia Pictures
- 91 min
- Larry Fessenden
- Larry Fessenden
- Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, Erik Per Sullivan, John Speredakos, Christopher Wynkoop, Lloyd Oxendine, Brian Delate, Daniel Sherman, Jennifer Wiltsie, Maxx Stratton, Dash Stratton, Dwayne Navara, Shelly Bolding, Susan Pellegrino, James Godwin
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