“The Wendigo” is a solid, found footage horror about the exploitative nature of social media and the lengths some will go to create content.
For whatever reason, the found footage genre has become something of an eye-roller for many horror fans.
This may be because of oversaturation within the genre; the high number of mediocre to poor films can be off-putting. For every Rec (2007), Man Bites Dog (1992), and Troll Hunter (2010), you will get twenty-plus Bigfoot movies with very little to zero Bigfoot action. However, in fairness, the same argument can be applied to any genre. Thus, I went into The Wendigo (2023), directed and starring Jake Robinson, with an open mind.
To my pleasant surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this slice of cryptid carnage.
The Wendigo (2023), co-written by Robinson with James S. Brown, is part of a shared universe along with Mothman (2022) and The Flock (2022).
In terms of plot and setup, we get a social media star who disappears in the woods of North Carolina during a live stream while his friends set off to find out what has happened to him.
It’s clear right from the start that Robinson understands the exploitative nature of social media.
Running through The Wendigo is a well-thought-out critique of our obsession with and addiction to living our lives — or a fake version of our lives — out online. In fact, the film’s characters are happy to use the disappearance of their so-called friend to create content.
Following the disappearance of Logan, played here by Tyler Gene, we get a series of “reaction” videos from other online content creators showing their shock and horror at the gruesome events unfolding while, at the same time, streaming the incident for likes and views.
(New York Times Journalist Sam Anderson once commented that reaction videos were a “fundamental experience of the Internet.”)
This cynicism is very much reflected in the film’s characters, as both Matt (Matthias Margraves) and Cassi (Laura Rodriguez) are so unlikeable.
Both bring a level of desperation and neediness that borders on narcissism. Anytime their characters interact with each other, there is an air of excruciating uncomfortableness that could very easily escalate into a physical confrontation. Although some characters, such as Jake Robinson’s TJ and Taylor-Grace Davis’ Kaylee, are more likable, they are still happy to go along and enable the others to exploit the potential brutal death of Logan.
At its heart, The Wendigo is an ensemble piece with the cast bouncing nicely off each other.
One of the film’s key strengths is the use of the Wendigo myth itself.
Although there have been several Wendigo movies, I feel it is an underused creature. In short, the Wendigo is an evil creature that can take a physical form that devours its victims. Or it can be an evil spirit that possesses its victims who develop an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
The most chilling of all is the very real and documented cases of Wendigo Psychosis.
But what Robinson does incredibly well is to tap directly into the metaphor or the idea that the Wendigo, according to Native American traditions, “will attach itself to people who have a corrosive drive toward self-aggrandizing greed and excessive consumption, traits that sow disharmony and destruction if left unchecked.”
This is brilliantly reflected in how Matt and Cassi are almost immediately affected. Their narcissism and desperation act as perfect conduits for evil.
The Wendigo builds nicely, and at no point does the film feel rushed despite its short run time of just over an hour.
You get a sense that the characters are enveloped by the evil lurking in the woods, feeding off the group’s fear as the group begins to fall apart.
Indeed, there are times when The Wendigo feels very much like Sam Rami’s original Evil Dead (1981), particularly in its possession elements.
There are a few shortcomings with The Wendigo; sometimes, the characters become a little shouty, slightly undermining solid performances. But its shortcomings do not detract from the effectiveness or enjoyment of the film.
Overall, Robinson delivers an impressive ensemble piece — a creepy diamond in the rough from among the beleaguered found footage genre.