Friday, May 6, 2011

'Bound by Blood: Wendigo' is a packed chiller

Bound By Blood: Wendigo (2011)
Starring: Brian Anthony, Cheyenne King, Leon South, and Bob Dobiesz
Director: Len Kabasinski
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In the dead of winter, a small town sheriff (Anthony) and a doctor (King) face off against a band of ruthless assassins hunting a Federally-protected witness and the body-hopping, cannibal spirit known as Wendigo.

This is one of those movies that was much cooler in concept than execution. I absolutely love the set-up and the way the movie unfolds with three story lines--the Wendigo spirit cutting gory swath through the back country, the mysterious assassins honing in on their target, and the sheriff who you just know is in for the worst day of his life when he inevitably gets caught in the middle of several situations he can't even begin to understand. Or, rather, never gets a chance to understand, because the bullets are flying and the bodies are dropping too fast.

The biggest problem with the film is that here's simply too much going on. There are too many characters up to too many things at any given time. While Kabasinski is skilled enough as a writer and director to keep all these balls moving through the air in a steady and orderly fashion, he has to move back and forth between the sheriff and the doctor, the wendigo claiming victims, the FBI protection detail, and the hit team, with such frequency that the viewers never really get invested with one set of characters or another. The end result is not one that builds suspense but rather one that builds impatience. We don't care more for one set of characters than the other, so all we want is for the film to reach the three-way confrontation it's promising.

That's not to say this is boring movie. Kabasinski gives us plenty of action and gore as the film unfolds, and he generally keeps things moving at a fast pace. The only boring bit happens right at the beginning, in the pre-opening credits sequence. While I appreciate the need to set up the presence of the Wendigo spirit, that sequence could have been done in half the time and it would have freed up a few minutes later for some more time with the lead characters--the sheriff and the doctor portrayed by Brian Anthony and Cheyenne King respectively--or perhaps with the most interesting secondary character--the leader of the hit team portrayed by the director himself under the stage name Leon South.

This is the third film I've seen by Len Kabasinski, and it's the third one I've enjoyed. As harsh as my review of Kabasinski's "Curse of the Wolf" was, I still found it entertaining and with plenty of merit. He showed improvement as a filmmaker with his second movie, "Fist of the Vampire", fixing most of the flaws I complained about previously and showing improvement in just about every technical area. That development as a filmmaker for Kabasinski continues with this film.

With "Bound By Blood", Kabasinski continues to marry the action genre with the horror genre, but he has become far more adept in staging and filming the martial arts fight scenes. Camera placement is such now that viewers have the illusion that punches and kicks are being thrown and actually hitting home. The use of sound design to further the illusion has also improved over previous efforts. The only problem with the fight scenes is that choreography continues to feel under-rehearsed; with a little more practice time, perhaps the fights could be a little faster paced and the use of editing to conceal the fact they're not continuous could be reduced? I understand, though, that this might not be possible due to the budget constraints that Kabasinski operates under.

Kabasinski also once again deploys CGI effects with great skill through the picture, moreso than in his previous ones. Once again, it's mostly muzzle-flashes and bullet impacts, but it's done very effectively. He tripped up a bit when he decided to use CGI for a gore effect involving a character being shot in the head, but I've seen worse in movies with bigger budgets, so I can forgive him that one excess.

"Wendigo" is not a perfect film, but it's pretty good. I hope that Kabasinski eventually finds a backer who can give him enough time and money to make a movie that's closer to perfect, because I think he has the potential to create a kick-ass action/horror hybrid film.

Regardless, I'll be looking forward to his next movie with great anticipation.

"Wendigo: Bound By Blood" debuted on DVD from Midnight Releasing on May 3. My thanks to Maxim Media for providing me with a preview copy.