Tales of the Wild West often focus on cowboys who conquer tough terrains and ruthless foes with their glistening guns and macho bravado. Bucking convention with The Wind, screenwriter Teresa Sutherland and director Emma Tammi dust off a forgotten and frightening real-life phenomenon that terrorized the pioneering women of the west. And the result is a horror-western as savage as it is insightful.
The Wind’s story begins with blood. Plains-woman Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) exits her humble cabin with her white nightgown drenched in red, her pale hands carrying bad news in a silent bundle. Cries of grief and a grisly burial follow. Then her husband leaves to gather supplies and deal with the paperwork of death, while Lizzy is left behind to clean up the visceral mess of it. Her mind wanders back to before, to her pregnant neighbor Emma Harper (Julia Goldani Telles), to that bloody, terrible night. Like its namesake, The Wind wanders back and forth along Lizzy’s time on an untamed frontier, where civilization is a distant memory and her most reliable company is the relentless wind. During the day, it carries the scent of her sweating skin to ravenous wolves with drooling jaws. At night, it carries strange sounds to her door…and maybe something more sinister.
When Mr. & Mrs. Harper arrive on the plains, Lizzy hopes Emma will rescue her from the crushing loneliness of this far-flung existence and her husband frequent absences. But superstition and jealousy only add to her troubles. Lizzy is tormented by stalking shadows, snarling beasts, and violent visions. She fears a demon hides in the wind. Then, her partner, her lover, her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), isolates her further by insisting it’s all her head.
The Wind is a tense psychological thriller that grounds its terror in the trauma of its heroine. Though Lizzy creates a pleasant façade for her husband and neighbors, she struggles under the mounting strain of this desolate existence. Gerard’s performance is predominantly subdued, a guarded expression and resolute poise punctured only by eyes that flash with suspicion, fear, and pain. But Tammi makes Lizzy’s suppressed terror contagious by enveloping her audience in a sound design of ominous growls and eerie wind, and a score of clamorous strings that shriek of catastrophe.
Moments of quiet only enhance the suspense, feeling like an eye of a merciless storm. My body tensed along with Lizzy’s in distrust of this silence. Then, Tammi hit me once more with a sound or sight savagely spiked to drive me to fearful frenzy. My own terror proved a preview of her harrowed heroine’s, whose steely façade is shattered in a gruesome and twisted climax. Along the way, Tammi will ramp up the horror with generous swaths of blood, glimpses of beasts, and jolts of jump scares that had this critic screaming at its American premiere at Fantastic Fest. All those bits of ghoulish spectacle may be rightly relished. But it’s Tammi’s restraint that thrilled me most. It’s those quiet moments that make the clamorous sing.
Watching The Wind, I was riveted, rattled, and ultimately in awe of Tammi and Sutherland’s insight. Like The Babadook, this is more than a frightening tale of things that go bump in the night. It is a ghoulish good time, electric with suspense and scares. Plus, its horror is deeply rooted in the female experience. Fears of motherhood, jealousy, and hysteria all swell within Lizzy’s story. Its scares may make you squeal in the theater. But the dark fears it unearths might cling, following you home to knock on your door in the middle of a sleepless night.
The Wind opens in limited release and on VOD on April 5.
Kristy Puchko is Film Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko is a regular contributor on the Slashfilmcast, and teaches a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com