on April 21, 2001 by Tim Cogshell
   On a winter afternoon, an upscale Manhattan couple and their eight-year-old son drive along the backroads of up state New York in hopes of a restorative weekend at a friend's farmhouse. They hit a deer, and in short order are in the uncomfortable company of a group of local hunters, lead by a particularly scary gun wielding throwback called Otis (John Speredakos) who doesn't care for uppity city folk. In some ways, this is the scariest sequence in "Wendigo," the third in director Larry Fessenden's avant garde horror series that includes the cult interests "Habit" and "No Telling."

   Kim (“High Art's” Patricia Clarkson) and George (“The Cell's” Jake Weber) are every bit as snobby as Otis thinks they are. And Otis is every bit the backwoods freak they think he is. It's a collection of characters and dynamics that make for an engaging story that really doesn't require a monster, literal or metaphorical.

   But the eponymous "Wendigo," a mythological Native American spirit intent on wreaking havoc, shifts the movie from "Straw Dogs"-meets-"Deliverance" to an episode of the "X-Files," which is by itself fairly disturbing.

   What is effective is the low-tech way in which the director manifests the horror elements of the movie. The entire film is underlit, grainy and cold, building on the inherent qualities of a crisp, white winter in a sparsely populated and remote community. Eschewing the use of CGI and other high-tech special effects, Fessenden leans on sound, editing and organic film techniques to jar the audience. It doesn't make for great cinema, but it is interesting to see where one's imagination will lead when given the opportunity.    Starring Patricia Clarkson, Jake Weber, Erik Per Sullivan, John Speredakos, Christopher Wynkoop and Lloyd E. Oxendine. Directed and written by Larry Fessenden. Produced by Jeff Levy-Hinte. A Magnolia release. Horror/Thriller. Rated R for a strong sex scene, language and violent images. Running time: 91 min.

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