From Mike Gingold: Welcome to The Gingold Files, featuring my past reviews and articles for Fangoria.com that are celebrating “anniversaries” this week, but have long been lost in cyberspace. This time, we’ve got reviews of Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo, Robert Parigi’s Love Object, and others, plus Gary Oldman talking about Hannibal, Matthew Modine on making his horror debut with Altar, and more!
An archive review from The Gingold Files.
Despite rumors of its demise, the quality independent horror film has proven itself alive and well in the past year, if sometimes difficult to find. 2001 saw a strong crop of low-budget horror features, both foreign and domestic, come to light, and a high-water mark has been set early in 2002 with Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo. If many genre films that approach its quality follow in the next 10 months, it’s going to be a hell of a year.
The New York-based Fessenden made an underground name for himself with his previous feature, the downtown vampire film Habit, but the skill for character-based horror he demonstrated there truly finds full flower in Wendigo. Literally leaving Habit’s urban milieu behind, the new movie follows a city family—commercial photographer George (Jake Weber), his psychiatrist wife Kim (Patricia Clarkson) and their young son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan)—as they drive to a vacation at a farmhouse in wintry upstate New York. Before they even reach the place, their peaceful plans go awry, as George hits a deer that runs in front of their car.
Right from this point, Fessenden presents a scenario in which already upsetting situations can have even direr consequences, setting the stage for further unease to come
One of Fessenden’s achievements is that he’s able to evoke a sense of rural menace without condescending to the region or its people; nor does his depiction of the citified George stoop to obvious yuppie clichés. That’s a tribute to the director’s talent for creating very specific people and eliciting strong performances from his actors, with Weber and Clarkson lending nuance to their husband-and-wife characters, Sullivan just terrific as their observant, sensitive son and Speredakos genuinely menacing as the hunter with a grudge. The simple human interaction between these characters carries the story for a long while before the supernatural elements become pronounced, and Fessenden even leaves the fact of the Wendigo’s existence up to debate, with questions of its reality tantalizingly unanswered. Is the monster real, or just a legend that Miles seizes upon to deal with his own fears? Or, as the climactic scenes suggest, does it not only exist, but actually respond to the emotions of one who, like Miles, is conscious of its presence?
This is not to suggest that Wendigo is some kind of existential exercise, but rather that there are plenty of ideas underpinning its haunting, moving and ultimately quite chilling story