When it comes to often-trod-upon Hollywood genres, there might not be one more used than that of the American Western. The Western has received a bit of a boost in the last decade with films like True Grit, Bone Tomahawk, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight inspiring audiences to go west once again. The genre does not often find any major success in crossovers with other genres, at least none successful enough to merit mentioning. The Wind, from director Emma Tammi, combines one of the most respected genres in film history, the western, with the hot commodity of the now, indie horror, into a female-led supernatural horror film set on the plains that attempts to pave the way for a new breed of terror.
Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) is a woman living in the isolated plains of the late 1800s with her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman). The only two people living in their area for many miles, Lizzy and Isaac learn how to live on their farm with full self-sufficiency. One day, a young newlywed couple, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee) buy the adjacent cabin to the Macklin’s estate to create a small community of four as Emma carries their first child. Slowly, Emma begins to react strangely to their new, isolated home, taking it out on Lizzy during her pregnancy. Lizzy, disturbed by Emma’s behavior, begins to realize that their land, through a malevolent supernatural force, is tormenting and taunting the respective families in different and bizarre ways. Without the outside world’s help, Lizzy must prove the existence of this evil force and destroy it before it tears apart the fabric of the simple life she’s come to know.
In theory, The Wind sounds like something directly up my alley, but the composition of the narrative sinks the film very quickly once the audience picks up on the formula that the film plays shockingly close to. Unlike other indie films focusing on isolation, à la The Witch, It Comes at Night, and The Strangers, The Wind lacks the subtlety that makes the landscape so moving to the picture. The Wind lacks the atmosphere that gives its setting, in theory, such a haunting feel to it. The film simply looks to throw you directly into some seriously in-your-face horror without giving the narrative the time it needs to bend and stretch to truly unnerve audiences.
Perhaps, on paper, The Wind tells a compelling story. The summary makes audiences want to engage with it on a deeper level than they will watching it. The non-linear order the story of The Wind is presented in, while effective in films like Memento and Irreversible, removes much of the suspense that makes films like this so effective. By seeing the effects of the monster on the families before even meeting the families or building tension towards some sort of inciting event, it feels that The Wind plays its hand too early, sacrificing that “slow-burn” effect for something a bit more breakneck. That being said, The Wind offers no real kinetic energy to make the tonal break feel warranted, or even helpful, for that matter.
The good news is, the performances in the film, especially that of Gerard, are quite good. While The Wind isn’t a purely female-focused story, it’s the actresses of the film that carry the emotional weight of the piece. Detailing the horrors of life for women without any supernatural forces bearing down upon them, the audience feels the frustration of the women through their performances, and their genuine terror when they begin to realize that things, despite being generally awful, might actually be abnormal in nature. This brings a sort of distinct uneasiness that should’ve pervaded the entire film, but which, unfortunately, was lost by poor editing.
The idea of an indie film, no matter the budget, looking attractive isn’t a new idea by this point, but it’s nevertheless perfectly refreshing to see a film of this size utilize its palette and setting for unique visual cues, even if the story and atmosphere built with them can’t keep up. There’s an unusual lack of grandeur with the film’s aesthetic. Rather than focusing on the grand, wide open spaces of the plains, Tammi focuses on the small nooks and crannies that beckon you to stick your hand into the unknown. Utilizing the fear of something new, as opposed to something big and scary, is something that’s done well in The Wind. It’s just not done enough. That being said, the final shot of the film is worthy of hanging in a museum.
And that’s where The Wind felt a bit too calm for me. There’s simply not enough beyond the surface of the film that really stays with you. It’s hard not to want something a bit more substantial here when the film focuses on more generic scares than on trying to build any major tension with slow-moving scenes of uneasiness and terror. The Wind could be far more enjoyable if the film were just edited in linear order, as the film doesn’t tell a complicated, or even a compelling enough, story to throw into a non-linear formula. It doesn’t improve the film or even make it feel smarter, it just spoils tension and shows you how everything is to turn out before you even get a chance to wonder. It makes the entire process feel uneventful and, in the end, bereft of any shocks or scares that might actually have worked had they been placed at the right moment. There’s a light breeze blowing with The Wind, but it feels incredibly disappointing to see easily fixable things be what keeps the experience from turning into a full-fledged cyclone.
In theaters and on VOD April 5th, 2019.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.