Friday, August 16, 2013

Shadow of the Hawk

Shadow of the Hawk
George McCowan

An aging medicine man by the name of Old Man Hawk (Chief Dan George) realizes that an ancient sorceress called Dsonoqua (Marianne Jones), who was seemingly executed two centuries ago, is again rising to power. He travels to the city to find his grandson, Mike (Jan-Michael Vincent). Old Man Hawk wants to enlist his aid in the fight and ultimately make him the tribe's new medicine man. Coming along for the journey is a reporter named Maureen (Marilyn Hassett). Mike is of course reluctant and doubtful, but that doesn’t make Dsonoqua’s increasingly vicious attacks any less real.

Shadow of the Hawk is an unusually quiet horror film. The couple of car chases, and the occasional bear fight are rare violent ripples in a placid lake.  The film builds horror through an unsettling atmosphere; things feel off kilter from the first frame. A strange figure in a white mask often appears to Mike, and is easily the eeriest thing in the film. Outlandish things like a killer car or a demonic snake are rendered almost naturalistic by Old Man Crow’s matter-of-fact attitude towards them.

One of the things I really did appreciate about this film was the fact the Old Man Crow wasn’t some all-knowing mystic spouting off wise sayings every minute. He’s presented a patient man who knows what he’s doing. He engages in a sort of gentle persuasion no matter if it is a reluctant grandson or evil witch. I was also relieved that Mike was never reduced to violently mocking his grandfather’s ways. There is definitely reluctance to go along with him, but there is a healthy respect. Sadly, Maureen isn’t very necessary to the story, she mainly functions to get put in danger and as Mike’s love interest. The romance part feels especially tacked on and seems to come out of nowhere late in the third act.

Much of the cinematography is filled with lush forest in the middle of autumn, and it does wonders to help evoke of mood of uncanny horror. There aren’t many big special effects in the film. The most effective sequence happens early on, with Mike being attacked in own pool by the white faced thing that haunts him. The worst is a bear attack that mixes a stunt man in a terrible wig with shots of a stunt man in an equally terrible bear suit. It’s an ambitious moment, but it’s not even remotely convincing and ultimately non-essential to the story.

Shadow of the Hawk is an enjoyable low-key horror film that mixes Native American beliefs and supernatural horror in a way that doesn’t feel overly exploitative. There is very little on screen violence, the movie tries to evoke its horror more through mood and tone. There are a few competent, if not exactly stunning, action scenes.  It is a solid horror film that deserves more notice, because it does what it sets out to do well, even if it does it quietly.

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