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By Tim Sanger | February 15, 2002

Aside from The Blair Witch Project, the horror genre seems almost non-existent in the realm of current independent cinema. Gone are the days of Avco and A.I.P., who churned out exciting, low budget horror from names like Cronenberg, Carpenter and Romero. Which is why it’s all the more disheartening to find that “Wendigo” can’t rise above its art-house nature to craft a supurb little horror film.
Standing with a standard horror scenario, Kim (Patricia Clarkson), George (Jake Weber) and their son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) are taking a leisurely weekend in the country. After the family runs into some of the dangerous local-yokels, Miles learns of the legend of the Wendigo, a powerful spirit bent on vengance who might just be after Miles and his family.
For the first half, writer/director Larry Fessenden shows where his strength lies by creating belivable, realistic characters that ring true. The family’s reactions and mannerisms aren’t forced, aided by the performances of Weber, Clarkson and Per Sullivan. The film has all of the traditional elements: the spooky house, creepy neighbors and cinematography that brings out the cold barren landscape.
Yet when it comes to the horror, Fessenden fails completely, falling for the age-old genre problem: guy-in-a-suit syndrome. It’s disappointing when after building up the Wendigo throughout the film, its nothing more than a guy in a bad elk suit covered up by trick cinematography. Instead of creating an eerie tone, Fessenden seems more fascinated with throwing in a bunch of style that doesn’t fit the film, taking you out of the story completely. Like other art-house films such as “Nadja,” “Wendigo” seems to have contempt for its genre, utilizing it as nothing more than an excuse to do some visual experiments. “Wendigo” wants to be a monster movie for the art-house crowd, but it falls into the trap of pretention almost every time.

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