Emma Tammi’s directorial debut stumbles a bit in it supernatural aspects, but has plenty of creepy atmosphere to spare.
The opening scene of a movie is a promise that the director makes to the audience; an oath that the last minute of a film will live up to the first. Emma Tammi gives one hell of a promise in the opening scene of her directorial debut, The Wind. The opening shot shows two men outside a rustic home, anxiously waiting. From the home a bloodied woman emerges, carrying a swaddled infant. She hands the baby to one of the men, and they depart, leaving the woman on the front porch with a blank stare as the men wail. It’s an arresting scene that my description doesn’t do justice, but can The Wind deliver a film that lives up to its promise?
The woman in the opening scene is Lizzy (Caitlan Gerard), a frontierswoman living in an unknown western territory during the 1800s. The plot reveals itself in pieces as we watch Lizzy tend to her homestead while she waits for her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) to return home following the suicide of their pregnant neighbor, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles). As she completes her chores, the film flashes back to her memories of her contentious relationship with Emma and her husband, Gideon (Dylan McTee), her stillborn child, and her gradual loss of faith. While Lizzy is haunted figuratively by her painful memories, she is being haunted literally by a mysterious demonic creature that comes with the wind that howls across the prairie.
Visually, The Wind eschews conventional horror atmospheric tropes. Much of the film takes place in the day, and the outdoor scenes are filled with shots of golden prairies or vistas of lilac hills, giving a visual tone that feels more like a historical romance than creature feature. These daytime scenes shouldn’t be tense, but they are. This suspenseful mood is partially achieved by composer Ben Lovett’s score, which mostly consists of a collection of disaffecting stings. It is also achieved by skillful editing and shot composition that emphasize just how isolated Lizzy really is. This gives even the most benign outdoor scenes a sense of dread and a feeling that you’ll see someone or something emerge out of the prairie at any moment.
This sense of dread is utilized masterfully utilized for some subtle, but effective scares. Nothing forms a pit in your stomach like the unknown and The Wind excels at giving us just enough hints of horror for our mind to fill in the gaps. The monster first appears after Lizzy is attacked by wolves. She is barricaded in her barn, and from the cracks in the door we can see an ominous shape take form. It’s a suspenseful and frightening scene that keeps you glued to the screen. The best moments in the film are similarly subtle: a knock at the door, a shadow that moves across the ceiling, and the lights coming on at Emma and Gideon’s abandoned house are all as simple as they are scary.
Nothing forms a pit in your stomach like the unknown and The Wind excels at giving us just enough hints of horror for our mind to fill in the gaps.
Unfortunately, while the scenes leading up to the horror are tense, and sometimes truly scary, The Wind is unable to deliver the scares once the supernatural shows itself in earnest. Fortunately, we don’t see too much concrete evidence of the monster, but the parts we do feel retread and are a letdown after the masterful buildup of dread. The most egregious example of this is Emma’s ghost. Her dark hair and pale face make her look like she comes from a 2000s American remake of a J-Horror, and her jumping onto the screen asking “Lizzy, where’s your gun?” is more eye-rolling than shiver-inducing.
While the creature doesn’t always work visually, it is much stronger metaphorically. The best monsters are more than monsters, and the creature in The Wind is a representative for the horrors of living on the frontier. It is a creature that feeds on Lizzy and Emma’s isolation, since neither Isaac nor Gideon have seen the creature. Left alone in an unforgiving land and an unsympathetic husband, Emma can only count on herself.
However, while the theme of men not believing women is an intriguing one, The Wind doesn’t go far enough with it. While there are a few scenes that explore Emma’s ostensible insanity and Lizzy’s deteriorating mental state, the film doesn’t explore it in much depth and it isn’t set up until near the middle of the film. Also muddling the film is an attempt at bringing in a religious angle that doesn’t fit in with the secularity of the frontier setting.
Keeping the more muddled bits of the film interesting, however, are the performances. Unsurprisingly, the most laudable performance is Gerard’s Lizzy, who manages to stay compelling despite spending a good chunk of the movie with no one to work off of. Her no-nonsense body language and captivating stare give her a commanding presence that keeps the audience eager to see what will happen to her next. Telles’ Emma is also a compelling character; an odd mix of childishly naïve and manipulative. The two actresses have a great chemistry that fluctuates between tenderness and animosity that makes the non-horror plot points as enjoyable as the scary scenes.
Does The Wind deliver on the promises it makes in its first scene? Not as much as one would like. However, it has me excited to see what Tammi comes up with next, and that’s good enough.