Thursday, March 28, 2002

Snow regrets

Movie: Wendigo

Posted on Thu, Mar 28, 2002 at 4:00 AM

***
Our Rating: 3.00

While on a weekend vacation to a house in the snowy, wooded country, a family of New Yorkers endure the attacks of a mysterious outside force. Is it merely one of the local deer hunters, of whom they've already run afoul? Or is their pursuer actually the Wendigo, a Native American spirit whose anger is carried aloft on the frosty winds?

"A lot of people make up stories to make sense of the world," daddy George (Jake Weber) reassures his son, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan). But it's hard to make sense of the bouillabaisse of signifiers writer/director Fessenden serves up. At various times, he appears to submit his latest film as a story of man vs. nature; femininity vs. masculinity; Darwinism vs. compassion; or metropolitan sophistication vs. rural wisdom. All are dallied with, yet none really takes hold as the film's overriding conflict.

The pop-cultural imagery Fessenden inserts into the action - specifically the archetypal, stoic Injun of kids' toys and product logos - hints at yet another theme: the deconstruction of childhood icons. If that's his game, he played it better in "Habit" (1997), in which the belief in vampires was posited as a potential escape from adult intellectual responsibilities. Open to interpretation but clearly focused, that film boasted a keen perception to which this one merely pretends.

Despite "Wendigo's" obvious surface similarities to "The Shining" and "Deliverance," the excellent cast keeps the character development feeling fresh. And Fessenden's visual intelligence hasn't failed him: His stuttering camera moves and time-lapse shots of wintry skies wring maximum creeps out of the sparse narrative. He's made a slick, skillful little horror film here. But he's capable of so much more.

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