When a family's car hits a deer wounded by redneck hunters, an idyllic weekend in the country becomes a terrifying nightmare. But this is no Deliverance. It's not even close.
A family headed for a weekend in the backwoods is stranded when a wounded deer jumps in front of their car and sends them into a ditch. A posse of threatening rednecks appears and the ringleader, Otis (John Speredakos), shoots the wounded deer point blank as the child in the car looks on. This is how the filmmakers establish Otis as the bad guy--and this will also create dramatic tension later between Otis and the Wendigo monster, so you never quite know which one's actually terrorizing the family throughout the film. Once it's painfully clear who the bad guy is, the trouble begins in earnest. When dad George, mom Kim and son Miles finally arrive at the country house where they're staying, they realize that someone's been shootin' up walls and windows. By now, everyone in the theater knows it must be Otis. He certainly reappears soon enough--and now the big mean deer killer ''knows where we live!'' You bet he does, Miles, and he's watching your parents have sex right now. But that just makes him a pervert--not a psycho killer. Or does it? You'll spend the rest of this nightmare movie waiting to find out the answer to this and other compelling questions. Like, what the hell is a Wendigo, anyway?
When little Miles' head first appears in the back seat of the car, you can't help but gasp. It's Dewey--oops, Erik Per Sullivan--with hair, and playing about three years younger than he looks like he really is. Yes, Malcolm in the Middle fans, your dear hamster-toting pal has finally hit the big screen. The filmmakers probably told him that he'd be the next Haley Joel Osment: ''Wendigo is the next Sixth Sense. You just have to be in it!'' Poor kid. It's not, and he didn't. Still, he does well enough with material that calls for him to do little other than look vacant and cry. Patricia Clarkson as Kim and Jake Weber as George are vacuous and their performances utterly forgettable. Of course, the utter crappiness of the script doesn't help, and since they have most of the lines, they come off the worst.
There's a certain '80s charm to the wintry look of this movie, which is probably more to director of photography Terry Stacey's (Spring Forward, Trick) credit than to director Larry Fessenden's. Credit Fessenden, who also wrote and edited and designed the Wendigo creature, with, well, the Wendigo, mostly. Because the sheer stupidity of this completely non-frightening creature pretty much nails exactly why this movie is as awful as it is. The Wendigo looks kind of like a deer standing on its hind legs, with, um, hands. Yeah, that's right. Hands. The creature might be the stuff of Miles' nightmares--there's certainly that possibility--but surely it should be at least a little scary. It's a joke as it's incarnated here. This is also the case with any number of scenes that are supposed to be scary, but just aren't: at Otis' place the hangin' deer meet is supposed to spook ya; it doesn't. Dad and Miles chop wood with an axe? Come on. Chopping wood is only a frightening event if your daddy slices his leg open with a chain saw. When George falls off the back of a sled leaving Miles to torpedo down the hillside and later flee on foot as a smoke-thing (Wendigo spirit, perhaps?) roils after him, you're not frightened. You just want to cry, ''Run, Dewey, run!'' The biggest joke is the ghostly Native American guy who appears at key moments (and once in a Quickie Mart), never speaks, but manages to deliver voiceovers like, ''Wendigo is a mighty, powerful spirit part wind, part tree, part man, part beast, shape shifting.'' He also gives Dewey--oops, Miles--the little carved statue that will play a key role in the plot's twist.
I don't know about staying out of the backwoods, but I can tell you this. Stay out of the theater when this flick's showing--waaaaay out.