By Bears Rebecca Fonte
As members of the modern world we often forget that America is a landscape dominated by wide open spaces. There was a time that people lived in places where they could go months at a time without seeing another face or at least another face outside of their own marriage. If being alone is one of the most frightening ways to experience a conflict, then being alone with no one to help you with in miles must be terrifying. Emma Tammi’s new Supernatural Western THE WIND captures the harrowing life of the American Prairie. Caitlin Gerard plays Lizzy Macklin, a happily married woman whose life becomes unraveled when a new couple moves in to the cabin a mile away. Suddenly she has to watch out not just for herself but for prairie-rookies who are no way prepared for life in the west. In addition to the loneliness and the sense of isolation, both Lizzie and her ‘forced-upon-friend’ Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) hear things in the night. Things get steadily worse until they discover Emma is pregnant only adding to the paranoia.
A complicated character study, Tammi’s film puts the audience in the place of the victim. Is there something out there or am I just going mad? The sound design, with a gorgeous score and the never ending wisps of winds and creaking noises, gets under the skin. You start hearing things that you’re not even sure are actually happening in the film. The cinematography dances between lush panoramas of distant thunderstorms and claustrophobic cabin interiors, filled with relics of safety. The performances are strong save Emma’s husband Gideon (Dylan McTee) who admittedly has not been given much to work with. But throughout, the direction from Tammi pulls the audience through one moment of tension to the next, giving enough breathing space for us to relax only to be attacked by wild coyotes again. The supernatural element of the film sneaks up on you in a way that forces you to reckon with your own prejudgment of these characters and their paranoia. When the Prairie Demon does know on the door, it scares like any more simplistic horror movie might. But THE WIND doesn’t work like a traditional horror movie because there is no way to battle the villain, especially when for majority of the time the villain feels like Hysteria. And when it is revealed that is not, it’s too late.
If I had to pick one element that didn’t necessarily work perfectly, it’s the structure of the script. Although all the dialogue, characters and scenes work capture our imagination, the film relies on a jumbled timeline of flashbacks within flashbacks that cause the viewer to begin every scene with the thought of ‘now where am I in the storyline?’ Although it adds to the unsettling nature of the experience, it did take me out of the story almost every single time it jumped timelines. More importantly, it didn’t really seem necessary to telling the story, feeling more like a trick added to the idea rather than something inherent to Lizzie’s plight.
Still, THE WIND is the best period western I have seen in years, and a strong statements from first-time narrative director Emma Tammi. The film reminds me of how I felt about THE WITCH, only better. Both films take us to another time and give us such a full portrait of life that we are able to conjure fears that don’t ring true to us today. The female hand in this picture is especially appreciated because of the issue of Hysteria which has seldom ben portrayed with anything other than a male’s judgment.
The Wind plays again at Fantastic Fest Tuesday, September 25th.