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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Wendigo (2001)

Wen-di-go (wén'digó) n. 1. evil entity, half phantom, half beast, who preys on human beings. 2. flesh-eating spirit.

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: March 13, 2003

Stars: Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber
Other Stars: John Speredakos, Erik Per Sullivan
Director: Larry Fessenden

MPAA Rating: R for a strong sex scene, language, and violent images
Run Time: 01h:31m:58s
Release Date: December 17, 2002
UPC: 012236134329
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B+ B

DVD Review

Wendigo is, in many ways, an old workhorse of a thriller. The story is based on an old Native American legend and features multiple scenes of expository storytelling, for one. Then there are the common themes of man versus nature, man versus self, and future versus past (or: "Tell me again why we decided to build a house on this cursed Indian burial ground?"). Writer/director Larry Fessenden, the decidedly unique oddball behind the unconventional vampire film Habit, once again takes iconic story elements and mythic conflicts, mixes them up, and filters them through his off-kilter lens, resulting in something that feels both wholly original and strangely familiar. Like the best campfire stories, it blends chills and unease with regional flavor and tops it all off with a dash of Universal Themes.

George (Jake Weber) and Kim (Patricia Clarkson) are traveling with their young son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan, from TV's Malcolm in the Middle) to a remote cabin in upstate New York when their car hits a deer and swerves into a ditch. In one of the most stress-inducing scenes in recent memory, they then encounter Otis (John Speredakos), the wild-eyed hunter who is clearly not happy that they bagged the game before he could claim the kill. Otis menaces the family before finally leaving, only to show up again with the tow truck. He and George nearly come to blows, and though Kim is able to quiet them down, the tension remains.

Content to let the dread build slowly, the film them downshifts into a somber family drama tinged with bits of menacing, foreshadow-y goodness. George is a distant father to Miles, who yearns for his father's attention even as he grows more isolated and insular. Kim and George are clearly in love, but there's also unspoken resentment, and he in particular is quick to anger. Their story is given the majority of the screen time, and is sure to infuriate those coming to the film looking for shocks and gore. Fessenden is more interested in spiritual horror than physical, though, and getting to know these troubled souls is essential to the tale he is telling.

So where does the Wendigo fit in? While in town to pick up food and supplies with his mom, Miles meets a stock genre character: the wise old Indian (Lloyd Oxendine), who shares with him the legend of the beast that can transform from tree, into air, into a half-man, half-stag beast; a flesh-eating spirit that preys on human beings. When Otis reenters the story, Miles' fear of the man melds with his fear of the Wendigo, and the dark places in his mind threaten to encroach onto reality.

Working with a small-budget horror film pretty much demands a certain level of ambiguity, but with Fessenden, such constraints never feel like limitations. The subtle glimpses of his monster, created with impressive puppetry and a not-so-impressive man in suit, are handled gingerly, and it's never clear what is real and what is imagined, or even if the story is taking place entirely in Miles' head. He uses a variety of film stocks and in-camera photographic tricks that serve as much to hide the low-budget effects as to heighten the psychological ambiguity of the narrative. Though the story is muddled in places and a bit predictable, and though Fessenden falters in the end by showing too much of his antlered demon, his tale lingers in the memory, and at bedtime, you find yourself hugging your blankets just a little tighter.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Considering the source material, this is a really nice transfer. Larry Fessenden shoots with a variety of film stocks and uses unusual processing effects that make the film look washed out or grainy at times, but such is certainly his intent. There isn't much else to say, as the usual standards don't apply, except that source materials are in fine condition and there doesn't appear to be any aliasing or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A nice, subtle 5.1 mix is always a bonus when it comes to a horror film, and Wendigo has a great one. The front soundstage is nice and wide, anchoring dialogue in the center channel and spreading effects and music to the mains with good directionality. Surround use is at times subtle, enhancing spooky wind noises and creaks, and at other times, quite aggressive (the climax, for example). LFE is decent, but by now means earth-shattering.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Larry Fessenden
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Art Gallery
Extras Review: Artisan has put together a nice complete package for this indie release, right down the the creepy animated menus. Director Larry Fessenden contributes an oddball, informative commentary in which he concentrates as much on the creation of the film as he does on eschewing his philosophy about the Hollywood machine eating up artistic talent. He talks a bit about how the screenplay was shaped and also comments of different deleted scenes and sequences.

Even better is the 20-minute documentary Searching for the Wendigo. It's a reel of behind-the-scenes footage presented sans narration and just as kookily edited as the main feature. A nice mix of preproduction footage, on-set moments, and clips of the special effects sequences being set up and shot, this piece is infinitely superior to the typical vanilla, studio-produced piece.

There's a 7-minute interview with Larry Fessenden that's kind of bizarre. It's basically him standing in front of a brick wall and talking about his reasons for producing his films independently. Rounding out the disc is an art gallery, cast and crew filmographies, and the theatrical trailer.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Wendigo certainly isn't original, but it is a satisfyingly spooky ghost story. Indie auteur Larry Fessenden's philosophical chiller balances style and substance, following the old adage that what you don't see is far scarier than what you do, and that the real horror is always lurking just off screen. Artisan doesn't get a lot of respect when it comes to their DVD output, but they certainly did a nice job with this informative special edition.


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