Documentaries often get a bad rap. They're staid, boring, pretentious, and they're often about subjects that could bore your average research librarian, when they're not credulous special pleadings biased toward one improbably belief or another. Cannibal Possession: Heart of Ice looks to upend that reputation, somewhat, focusing on the Canadian legend of the Wendigo, though it retains a scholarly air about itself.
Nathan Carlson is something of an amateur Wendigo expert and researcher, so he was happy to be interviewed by his local paper in 2008, discussing the topic. Just a few days later, a man named Vincent Li, one of whose jobs was delivering that same paper, boarded a bus in Manitoba, attacked a passenger, beheaded him, and ate his flesh. Li later begged to be killed in court. This attack deeply disturbed Carlson, and he felt somewhat to blame, since the attack echoed many aspects of the Wendigo legend, and previous incidents that had been linked to it.
Cannibal Possession then proceeds to recount the details of the Wendigo myth, and other murders that seem to be related. They discuss the Trout Lake case, and the Swift Runner case (which also involved cannibalism), in which the killers reportedly claimed to have been possessed by the Wendigo spirit. Carlson is convinced that there is a connection between these and other "suggestive" cases. Wendigo is discussed as a possible mental condition, a contagious psychosis, a prophecy, and history and myth, all revolving around the bus killing and Carlson's feelings of semi-responsibility for it.
If that's all it was, a series of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies and too credulous connecting of perhaps unrelated dots, then the film would have been another conspiratorial failure. But the producers (of whom Carlson is one) chose to bring some actual experts in various fields related to the topic, including anthropologist Robert Brightman, who got his PhD from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Liam Ennis, a forensic psychologist. Geoff Desmoulin from Deadliest Warrior, a biochemical engineer and no slouch himself, also provides some commentary. These three are significantly skeptical about Carlson's ideas, though in a friendly way, and they provide a lot of relevant information and opinion about the Wendigo, particularly Brightman who has studied the belief extensively. Their comments provide a nice counterpoint to the more invested pronouncements of the true believer Carlson.
While the other commentators don't tend to agree with Carlson, except perhaps pop historian Mike Dash, they all seem to like him and be kindly inclined toward him. They aren't out to tear down his beliefs or undercut him, just point out their own opinions without malice. And Carlson is a likeable and engaging fellow, and even if you don't believe what he believes, he tells a compelling story. When you've finished watching the film, you might not be more inclined to believe in the Wendigo, but you'll certainly know a lot more about it.
That said, the film does tend to be a bit listless at times, and it's difficult to see the point of the endeavor. The connection between Carlson and the bus killing is tenuous at best, and that is the lynch pin that holds the narrative together, leaving the film feeling light and disconnected. Regardless, it holds the attention, and provides an awful lot of information about an interesting legend. Recommended.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks good as far as it goes. There is slight but pervasive aliasing throughout, but that's the only real defect.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds good. Documentaries don't normally cause a lot of challenges in that department. The moody score is well presented, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. Dialogue is always easily audible, though no subtitles are included.
The only extra is a short, somewhat unspectacular trailer.
Cannibal Possession: Heart of Ice is a breath of fresh air when it comes to supernaturally inclined documentaries. Though it presents a true believing perspective, it tempers that with well informed and qualified people who don't agree, and can present that counter position without acrimony or spite. The film is not afraid to confront differing opinions, even though its belief is pretty strongly inclined toward the reality of the Wendigo in some form. This is an interesting film, whatever one thinks.