JUNE 21, 2009
One of my many irrational fears is that of snipers. Maybe it’s because I saw The Deadly Tower as a young man. Maybe I am the reincarnation of someone who died from sniper fire in a war or something. Maybe I just suck at Team Snipers. Whatever the reason, it allowed me to feel genuine dread for the first hour or so of Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo, as it deals with a regular family seemingly being stalked by a hunter as they try to vacation in a remote cabin.
The hunter is pissed at them because the dad (Jake Weber! Love that guy) hit a deer with his car and broke the antlers, which I guess would make for a pretty shitty trophy. The most unnerving scenes in the film (besides their initial confrontation, which scared me a bit due to a recent incident of my own in a parking lot with some drunken ass who thought I was parked too close to his car) are those in which Weber (and later his wife) find a hole in the wall caused by a bullet. That is so goddamn freaky! The idea that you could just be sitting in your home and then WHAM! You are shot by a guy standing hundreds of feet away.
Slightly less scary is the moment when the sniper actually DOES shoot Weber, but that’s more my fault than Fessenden’s. See, I’m sort of a cynical ass, and I always suspect that trouble is about to strike whenever movie or TV characters are experiencing joy. This is likely caused by love of Prison Break, in which characters ARE suddenly shot or blown up or run over or whatever whenever they find themselves at ease for even a moment. So Weber and his kid are sledding, and having a grand old time, and I suddenly yell "BLAM!" (as a joke), which drowned out the actual gunshot that occurred literally half a second after I made my dumb joke. I knew eventually more than a wall would take a bullet, but I honestly didn’t think it would happen so suddenly.
Sadly, from that point on the film begins to flounder. We get a twig monster that gave me unfortunate flashbacks to the horrid Blair Witch game for the PC, a guy in a monster suit (I think this is supposed to be an actual monster though, perhaps the title character), some weird acting by Weber, and a somewhat vague finale that seems to suggest the entire film was either a dream or the unconscious doing of the little kid. The reason the fim was working as well as it was for the first hour was the subtle realism of the whole thing; scaring you with simple tension. You throw a twig monster into the mix and you’re off in a different direction entirely. Incidentally, his film Last Winter suffered from a similar 3rd act problem, though this film I think works longer than Winter did before it started to go off the rails. However, I would like to watch that film again, now that I am more familiar with his work.
He also keeps throwing in these “animations” (his words), which are little sequences of filmed stills of the house (or a deck of cards, or a picture book), presented in rapid fire montage. They don’t really fit, in my opinion, and even if I didn’t suspect that they were a product of the time (2000), he also tosses in a straight up “Matrix shot” (spinning 180 degrees around a frozen moment in time) to prove it. It’s an indulgence he didn’t repeat with Last Winter (at least, not as far as I can recall), so hopefully it’s out of his system for good.
Also, he doesn’t have a cameo in the movie, which surprised me. He’s appeared in all of his others, plus shows up in so many indie horror movies (including Trigger Man, which also dealt with the dangers of snipers), so I’m not sure why he didn’t show up here. Not that I mind much, I find cameos distracting. Also, on the extras, we get the impression that he was wearing the Wendigo costume for at least some of the time, so there you go.
The extras are pretty solid. Larry gives a commentary in which he points out some stuff that had gone over my head, such as the idea that violence is part of everything we do (focusing on the knives/swords brandished by the Kings and Queens in a deck of cards), so it’s worth a listen. There’s also a terrific “fly on the wall” type behind the scenes piece that runs a little over a half an hour and covers many areas of production, including all of the extensive work that went into making the monster suit. Fessenden also gives an interview in which he talks about filmmaking in general. All of it is worth a look (unless you hated the movie, in which case you should probably play some Xbox or maybe make yourself a nice sandwich). I just wish that the comic book that is often mentioned was presented in whole as DVD-rom feature or something; it looks really cool but it’s also the type of thing I’ll never remember to look for once I hit “post” at the bottom of this review. Someone remind me!
In closing, I just want to ask the IMDb to stop listing shorts alongside features, or to at least designate them as such on the person’s filmography (with an (S) or something, like the (V) they put next to direct to video films). Larry has done about a zillion shorts, and while I’m sure they are worth a look, I just want to see what other features he has done. But to do so, I have to keep clicking on each title to see whether or not “Short” is listed in the genre section. Stop wasting my time, you IMDbastards!
What say you?