CONTENT WARNING: THE CLIMAX INVOLVES REVELATIONS OF PAST ABUSES, BUT I GIVE ANOTHER WARNING BEFORE GETTING TO THE SPECIFICS
I like movie monsters. Give me some nasty motherfucker with too many teeth and eyes that pierce into your soul and I’m a happy individual. One of my favorite monsters is the wendigo, an Ojibway evil spirit that pop culture has taken and claimed as it’s own (seriously, they even show up in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). But none of that really matters, because there is no wendigo in A Windigo Tale. There is a horrible monster that devoured the young members of their tribe, but it’s more… metaphorical.
The framing device focuses on Curtis, an Ojibway youth who has fallen in with some bad influences. His aunt/caregiver Lily is fed up with his antics, so his grandfather Harold comes to take custody of him. On the drive back to his hometown, Harold tells Curtis a story about Lily. Many years ago, a woman named Doris has buried her husband in an unusual way: without any of his clothes. She keeps them because she’s convinced he’ll return as a windigo and despite trying to burn the clothes several times, they resist the fire. Turns out Doris is Lily’s mother and through some familial meddling, Lily and her boyfriend David (an Edward Norton looking white guy) stay for a while. Tensions rise in this broken home until we learn the dark truth of the family and how it centers on the residential school Doris went to as a child.
Time for an aside. If you haven’t heard of “residential schools” before, buckle up! They were government sponsored religious schools that would take indigenous children and raise them to be good Christians, forsaking their native roots. Many of the children died there from a variety of reasons ranging from poor construction, disease, and direct violence. This is absolutely cultural genocide, and possibly actual genocide depending on how you interpret the UN’s definition (it is). But this is also a good point to pause because I enjoyed this movie and recommend it. It’s not perfect, but it was pretty well done for writer/director Armand Ruffo’s first and only film. You can find the whole thing on YouTube and it’s only an hour and a half. So now this post is going back to the story and will spoil the ending, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Turns out when Doris was at a residential school the priests there were… very bad people. As in she was raped by one and got pregnant with Lily. The local doctor was the one who generally performed abortions as a coverup, but opted to spare Lily. He paired Doris with a “proper Christian” man to raise the baby, but that dude turned out to be a physically abusive asshole. Back in the present, Lily has a breakdown and Doris believes this is the work of the windigo. She has David wear her husband’s clothes which causes him to become possessed by the dead dick. Doris finally stands up to the spirit of her abuser, burns the clothes, and frees her family. Lily and David don’t really remember what happened, so it’s probably for the best. Meanwhile, Curtis begins to respect Lily’s strength and appears to stop being an asshole.
The residential school was the real windigo, if that wasn’t clear. At the very beginning we see a painting of the monster that has a photo of children in its belly, symbolically eating the culture and children of the local tribe, always hungry for more. And I think the metaphor works fairly well. My biggest complaint about the whole thing is that the soundtrack is kind of all over the place, and a lot of background songs just abruptly stop. But overall it was a good story, and again, I recommend checking it out. Maybe then I won’t be the only person on Letterboxd who has seen it! Hell, the only reason I found this was browsing through Mr. Gary Farmer’s IMDB page after watching Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (he played Deputy Bob).
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