After mak­ing Habit, it would take Larry Fessenden six years to get anoth­er film into the the­aters. Thankfully, the wait was worth­while as Wendigo was a big step for­ward for Fessenden in tech­nique and artis­tic focus. It offers a unique blend of fam­i­ly dra­ma, Southern dis­com­fort thriller and mytho­log­i­cal hor­ror that both hor­ror fans and indie movie diehards are like­ly to find entranc­ing.

Wendigo-posWendigo focus­es on a fam­i­ly tak­ing a vaca­tion at a rural home in the win­ter: George (Jake Weber) is the dad frus­trat­ed by work prob­lems, Miles (Erik Per Sullivan) is his sen­si­tive son and Kim (Patricia Clarkson) is the ther­a­pist mom and wife who is try­ing to keep them going. Things get off to a bumpy start when the earn the ire of town­ie Otis (John Speredakos) by hit­ting a prize deer with their car but they try to enjoy the place, even though George is dis­tract­ed by work trou­bles. However, there is trou­ble on the hori­zon for them in the form of an ancient Indian leg­end that takes root in the mind of Miles and might be man­i­fest­ing itself in the near­by woods.

Like many a Fessenden film, Wendigo starts off like an inde­pen­dent dra­ma with ele­ments of hor­ror sneak­ing into its nooks and cran­nies. Weber and Clarkson do com­pelling work nail­ing down the rhythms of two city peo­ple try­ing to put aside their prob­lems in the coun­try and Sullivan is like­ably sub­tle as the day­dream­ing kid in the mid­dle. Fessenden takes the first two-thirds of the film to get us immersed in the details of their inter­ac­tion while keep the dra­ma primed with uncom­fort­able moments of con­flict or sus­pense, often involv­ing the char­ac­ter of Otis (played with believ­able men­ace by Speredakos).

Wendigo-01Patient hor­ror fans who can roll with Fessenden’s grad­u­al ratch­et­ing of ten­sions will be reward­ed with a real­ly strong and creepy third act where the direc­tor opens up his bag of tricks. In trade­mark style, he plays things close to the vest as to whether the super­nat­u­ral hor­rors are real or not but he cre­ates a tru­ly spooky atmos­phere and deploys some hor­ror shocks and creep-out moments using inven­tive, hand­craft­ed approach­es to achiev­ing the­se effects.

The end result is as dev­as­tat­ing emo­tion­al­ly as it is nerve-wrack­ing, which is a tes­ta­ment to Fessenden’s abil­i­ty to cre­ate a believ­able set­ting for his hor­rors through his cast. Fessenden gives them room to devel­op their char­ac­ters and our invest­ment in them as peo­ple cre­ates a beau­ti­ful setup for the hor­rors to come.Wendigo-02

More impor­tant­ly, Fessenden has an intu­itive skill for link­ing gen­re arche­types with pri­mal, all-too-real human fears. In Wendigo, the ghost sto­ry ele­ments are used to tease out themes like the dis­con­nect between city and coun­try liv­ing, what the idea of “man­hood” means in a post-civ­i­liza­tion world and how peo­ple can become so buried in their fan­tasies and day-to-day mini-dra­mas that they fail to see the real threats in front of them. Fessenden uses his hor­ror ele­ments to bring the­se ideas full-cir­cle yet gives the audi­ence room to think and devel­op their take on them — and that makes Wendigo a unique­ly haunt­ing propo­si­tion.

Blu-Ray NWendigo-03otes: This title just made its blu-ray debut as part of Scream Factory’s The Larry Fessenden Collection. The trans­fer hits the right mix of vivid detail and cel­lu­loid grain, with nice col­ors. Both 2.0 and 5.1 loss­less stereo mix­es are includ­ed: the 5.1 mix was used for this review and it’s an immer­sive affair that shows off Fessenden’s atten­tion to com­plex­i­ty in his mix­es.

The disc is also stacked high with extras. Two com­men­tary tracks start it all off. The first is a solo track by Fessenden: he offers a very sophis­ti­cat­ed run­ning analy­sis of his char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and themes as well as offer­ing appre­ci­a­tions of his cast, pro­duc­tion tales and the home­spun tech­niques used for the film’s set­pieces.LarFesC-blu

The sec­ond track fea­tures Weber and Clarkson, who reflect fond­ly on the film from an actor­ly per­spec­tive and have a nice chem­istry (the way they joke through the film’s sex scene is amus­ing). Speredakos pops up in the last fif­teen min­utes for a solo stretch where he mix­es thought­ful appre­ci­a­tions of Fessenden’s work with pro­duc­tion tales and thoughts on the act­ing.

Searching For The Wendigo” is a 32-min­ute behind the sce­nes piece, struc­tured like a diary of the shoot. It fea­tures plen­ti­ful on-set footage and some insights into how the film’s crea­ture was cre­at­ed. Fessenden appears in an eight min­ute inter­view where he cov­ers how he learned the Wendigo leg­end as well thoughts on his aes­thet­ic and the role of escapism in films.

Next up are a few ani­mat­ed pieces. The first is a three-min­ute teaser for a pro­posed ani­mat­ed Wendigo show which looks like it could be an inter­est­ing venue for Fessenden’s eco-con­scious themes. The oth­er is “Santa Claws,” which mix­es revenge of nature themes into a riff on Toy Story. A punchy the­atri­cal trail­er and a siz­zle reel rounds things out: the lat­ter is devot­ed to the the­atri­cal Glass Eye Pix films and is appro­pri­ate­ly creepy.