★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Themes of madness, isolation, grief, jealousy, and demons abound in this 2018 Horror Western. A pinch of Little House on the Prairie, a dollop of The Shining, a dash of the Witch, and a splash of High Plains Drifter.
Directed by Emma Tammi
Isolation and loneliness have a funny way of getting to you, driving you to paranoia and hallucinations. For that matter, a demon would do a fairly good job at driving you mad as well. The Wind gives you both options here, and frankly, you can interpret it either way and probably be right. The Wind is a rarity. A horror – western mash-up, and is director Emma Tammi’s feature film debut, and was one of the buzzier titles to come out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
The movie immediately lays down some pretty nasty stakes, with the opening scene. An emotionally brutal failed emergency Caesarean section on a corpse of a young woman who has apparently shot herself in the head with a rifle. So, the indicators are that this is going to be a bit of a heavy movie, and that proves to be true to the bitter end.
Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard) and Isaac Macklin (Ashley Zukerman) are frontier farmers, who cautiously welcome new settlers Gideon (Dylan McTee) and Emma (Julia Telles), a couple of people completely unprepared for the harshness of life on the prairie. These are the only homes for many miles, so these two couples are forced upon each other, like it or not. And this is an awkward arrangement, at best.
A series of tragic events force Lizzie to be left alone on the farm, and through a series of flashbacks, we get the tale of the two couples’ interactions. Both Emma and Lizzie are haunted by perceived demons. Both struggle with pregnancies. Both also fall victim to paranoia and delusions. Both are fearing that the land they live on is haunted by demons.
The two women largely keep these secrets as best they can from the men, but suspicions and jealousies crop up, and the relationships all strain, made more difficult by the bouts of mania exhibited by the women, and the behavioral failings of their husbands. The film reveals the supernatural elements gradually, but as in many possession type movies, what we see on the screen may very well be just the cracked visions of our protagonists.
Is that a demon knocking on my door? Or is that just the wind? Can this strange visitor be trusted? What about my husband? Human or demon? Why in the world are you reading demonic texts?
The Wind certainly stands apart from much horror fare, by the setting, but the precedents are all quite evident. This is a remake of a largely forgotten 1928 movie starring Lillian Gish, but you can certainly see elements of The Babadook, The Witch, The Shining, The Evil Dead, and Repulsion. What is perceived reality and what are illusions are fragile things.
This is a very heady movie, and if movies like The Babadook or Repulsion aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably want to steer clear. The action, when it happens is poignant, but no doubt about it, this is an independent horror movie. It is also a big downer. An exquisitely made downer of a movie though. Full credit to DP Lyn Moncrief, who captured the isolation and cold wind swept grandeur of the western landscape. And, if we’re being honest here, ALL contemporary westerns need to have the panoramic flair, don’t they?
The non-sequential nature of the narrative is jarring and a bit confusing. I did find myself trying to figure out where I am in the timeline. And certainly that’s done for effect, but it had me puzzling through the logistics of the film perhaps a little more than I should have had to. The actors also speak often in hushed tones, and dialogue is at a minimum (much of the movie is Gerard by herself) and that doesn’t help to establish plot stability.
Also, important items re-appear. Things that have been burned, buried, broken, or killed end up coming back. Sometimes, it’s explained. Sometimes, not so much. Also, some things seem to just vanish. (What happened to those wolves?) The stark and barren simplicity of the Western setting is the backdrop to a carousel of plot components, but such is a movie that is about confusion and madness.
All that said, this is a good movie, with powerful moments. Gerard also lays down a bravura performance that alone makes the movie worth watching. If you are a patient horror movie fan, and one who is willing to piece a complex plot together, this movie will likely really appeal to you. Emma Tammi’s previous notable efforts have been documentaries, so this really stretched her narrative feature film director skills. The Wind puts her squarely in the hot indie director watch list and brings yet another great female voice to the horror scene.