The Wind Reviews
The Wind is ostensibly a horror movie about a woman being terrorised by a demon on the American frontier. Or is it a study of prairie madness? Or is it a metaphorical examination of the mindset of a less enlightened time? A fiercely feminist appropriation of that most masculine of genres - the western - it deals with traditionally gendered themes such as frontier domesticity and postpartum depression, remaining always within the genre's paradigms, even whilst challenging many of that genre's most fundamental tropes. Beak and pared back, it's one of those films whose lack of budget works in its favour. A slow-burner that relies on shadows and sound effects, it's built on atmosphere, tone, and escalating psychological dread.
The debut film from director Emma Tammi, the film is adapted by Teresa Sutherland from Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 novel. Set somewhere on the New Mexican frontier in the late 19th century, it is structured achronologically, and tells the story of Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), who lives with her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) in an isolated cabin on the prairie, from which he is absent for weeks at a time. As the film intercuts the present with the past, it reveals that another couple - Gideon (Dylan McTee) and Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) - purchased the only other cabin within walking distance. However, after Emma got pregnant, she became convinced an evil entity was stalking her. Meanwhile, in the present, Lizzy begins to feel that that same entity is now haunting her. But is she correct, or is she suffering from the same delusion as Emma?
The Wind hits the ground running with a downright ballsy dialogue-free opening scene. With the as yet unintroduced Isaac and Gideon standing outside the Macklin cabin, Lizzy emerges, her white dress soaked in blood, carrying the lifeless body of a newborn baby. Shot by Lyn Moncrief using an extremely cold colour palette of muted blues and whites, the red of the blood really pops, driving home the visceral (and all too real) horror of whatever has just happened.
This scene occurs at roughly the mid-way point of the story, as the film uses a non-linear narrative structure, out of which Tammi gets a lot of mileage, forcing the audience to question the order and significance of seemingly inconsequential events. The fact that we are often uncertain as to exactly where we are in the timeline also mirrors Lizzy's own uncertainty regarding what's happening to Emma, and ultimately, what's happening to herself.
From an aesthetic point of view, as the film progresses, and we get deeper and deeper into Lizzy's psychosis/haunting, Moncrief shoots the initially vast-open plains in such a way as to become increasingly claustrophobic - there are more scenes at night; there are fewer high-elevation shots; the skies become more oppressive; there are more tightly-framed interiors. So although the characters are out in the open, they are very much imprisoned by their environment.
Especially important in the film's atmosphere is Juan Campos's exceptional sound design, as gunshots, slammed doors, and screams deafeningly pierce the silence without warning. Particularly of note is the sound of the wind itself, which is normal enough to be recognisable, but unusual enough to be unsettling; is that a voice drifting across the plains, or is it a trick of the senses? This works in tandem with Moncrief's excellent use of shadows to suggest a horror that's always just slightly off-camera. Is there literally a demon stalking Lizzy, or has the stress of isolation pushed her over the edge into psychosis?
Tammi's main thematic preoccupation is a metaphorical examination of a pre-#MeToo era and its concomitant mindset - a powerful monster targets a vulnerable woman, terrorising her with impunity, whilst the man in her life doesn't believe her. The film very clearly shows that Lizzy suffers almost as much from the fact that Isaac doesn't believe her as she does from her conviction in the presence of the demon.
That the film is a feminised appropriation of the western mythos serves to drive home the allegorical nature of the story. Lizzy is, on the surface, a stock character - "the wife", the one who looks after the home whilst the men are out doing manly things. So the fact that she may be mentally ill is not something about which Isaac concerns himself; mental illness or not, her role is to maintain the home. And the crucial point here is that Isaac isn't a bad husband; he's just very much of his era.
The Wind is an extremely impressive horror-western. But it's an even more impressive study of isolation and (possible) psychological disintegration. Genuinely creepy in places, Tammi and her crew have created an exceptionally well-crafted film rich in feminist connotations all the while remaining faithful to a genre not known for its nuanced depictions of women.
It's beyond boring, extremely slow, not exciting, and nothing happens. I almost fell asleep. It's also not scary at all. Did I mention it's boring?
The plot is rather boring and the horror nothing more than typical jump scare garbage.
And top notch work by Tammi in maintaining tone throughout the film; it's unsettling from the first scene and never truly allows the viewer to settle into a state of comfort or ease. This is a taut, affecting horror film of sorts. While there are certainly horrific scenes of unseen forces seemingly at the door, and jump scares are used well. But the greater horror is in the idea of these women losing touch with their sanity to the point of great endangerment. Also, wonderful use of imagery, color and sound.
The actors all do a suitable or better job, but a stellar performance is given by the lead, Caitlin Gerard. She dominates the screen and owns this movie.
Vastly excited when I read about it and the previews were quite promising. It started out well too but fell flat in the end as it relied on imagination, which was not much in making the film quite honestly, to deliver the message.