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Friday, November 19, 2021

Wendigos and Sibling Rifts in ‘Devil in the Dark’ [Horrors Elsewhere]

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Returning to his hometown was not an easy decision for Adam. He has managed to stay away for fifteen years. However, he now finds himself back in his parents’ old and untouched house. The reason for Adam’s sudden return ultimately leads him and his older brother Clint deep into the mountain forest. What might have been a heartfelt reunion between estranged siblings quickly shifts into something unprecedented. Something unnatural.

In Devil in the Dark (also known as The Plateau), Clint (Dan Payne) has not seen his younger brother Adam (Robin Dunne) since their father died. Having him back is a surprise all on its own, but what is even stranger is Adam’s desire to go camping during his time home. Before the brothers venture off into the remote British Columbia forest, they quickly fall into their old patterns. Adam has no concern for others’ time and Clint always assumes the worst of Adam. These next six days will not be easy, the brothers soon realize.

The trip starts off on the wrong foot. Adam is not only hungover from a late night of drinking with old pals, Clint has resumed his fault-finding ways. He goes as far as to give Adam the bag of supplies he packed earlier all because he “had a hunch” he would not come prepared. And rather than take an ATV up to the destined plateau, Clint wants them to do things “old school.” The long hike gives the brothers plenty of time to get reacquainted after doing their best to avoid each other for so long.

Now, the poster — a young Adam in the foreground and a shadowy, antlered figure in the foggy background — promises a creature feature. Does that art mislead? No, not quite. Devil in the Dark more or less delivers what it pitches but with some caveats to consider. That foreboding, unearthly monster definitely appears in the movie toward the end. Bearing that in mind, the creature is hardly visible to the naked eye. There are the abstract parts of it here and there, but on the whole, the antagonist is a sight unseen or wholly shrouded in darkness. A good rule of thumb when making monster movies is less is more; showing too much will only strip them of their power in the long run. What little there is of the monster on screen forces the audience to use their imagination. Be that as it may, Devil would have benefitted from at least one substantial shot.

What exactly is the monster of Devil in the Dark? The antlers are a big clue. Ever since Larry Fessenden manifested his fascination with them, the Wendigo has incidentally become more at home in pop culture. Before then they were mainly the stuff of vintage pulp and comics. The mythological basis hails from First Nations folklore and is typically a wintry spirit born out of greed or other human weaknesses. Fessenden’s interpretation is credited for the signature yet fairly new elk-like traits, but Matt Fox illustrated a similar depiction in a 1944 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Meanwhile, the ashen namesake of Devil in the Dark takes after the modern Wendigo while also looking very human.

Oh too often Bigfoot and the Wendigo are conflated in spite of their disparate origins and activities. Movies involving the former tend to be straightforward and reactionary. Whereas Wendigo stories almost always dive deeper into the psyche and pluck out anything that could entice one of these fearsome abominations. For instance, Adam’s resentment toward Clint is transparent. He outright blames his older brother for his bad relationship with his father Glen (Daniel Cudmore), who had very little in common with his youngest. For this reason Adam was unconsciously excluded from father-son activities like hunting and other traditionally masculine pastimes. 

Adam’s lifelong burden draws him to the Wendigo legend, which is a cautionary tale to begin with. Those on the outside of their communities are said to be more susceptible to the Wendigo’s influence. Hence why the monster targets Adam; he sees himself as an outcast in his own family. A large part of that separation is voluntary later in life — Adam moved away and left Clint to take care of their father — but there is no denying Glen worsened matters between his sons by favoring Clint. Adam’s bitterness finally gives the Wendigo access to his heart and something new to feed on.

Seasoned horror audiences may struggle to find openly frightening material here. Yet possibly more alarming than a killer Wendigo is the lengths the story will go to deny the characters any closure. Rather than apologizing and moving on from their internalized heartaches, Adam and Clint act stubbornly. They are harshly punished as a result. That continuous sting of regret on both sides goes beyond the abrupt ending.

This is a tense family drama first and a horror movie second. At the risk of turning potential new viewers away, it is only fair to point out how elusive the horror elements are here. What little there is is intentionally delayed in an effort to better expound the complicated relationship between the two brothers. The leads’ convincing chemistry and performances along with a coachload of atmosphere all make for a better creature feature. Tim Brown and Carey Dickson approach the concept differently than most, and the success of Devil in the Dark does not lie in its macabre parts. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3692339/wendigos-sibling-rifts-devil-dark-horrors-elsewhere/

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