By Scott Dorward
The Wind (USA, 2018)
“This land is funny, you know. It plays tricks on your mind.”
The Wind has blown in just in time to tie in with our current two-part look at the weird west on the podcast. It offers a look at the maddeningly lonely lives and deaths of pioneers settling the vast, empty landscape of New Mexico in the nineteenth century. Or maybe the land isn’t quite as empty as they’d like to think.
The film opens with the aftermath of what is apparently a bloody suicide. Lizzy, a young frontierswoman, attempts the posthumous delivery of her neighbour Emma’s baby. Emma has died from a gunshot wound which tore her head apart. When Lizzy fails to save the baby, her husband Isaac takes Emma’s widower Gideon to the nearest town, many miles away, to report the incident. Until they return, Lizzy must fend for herself in the desolate landscape, although she may not be as alone as she would like.
The Wind is a film told out of order, weaving its narrative out of multiple strands spread across time. This is an effective way of building intrigue and discomfort, but it does sometimes feel like a trick to make the story feel weightier than it is.
We switch between Lizzy’s escalating confrontations with a mysterious supernatural threat that lays siege to her house and a series of flashbacks to Emma and Gideon arriving in the area and the growing, shifting relationships between the two couples.
Central to all this is Emma’s belief, born of a pamphlet sold by an itinerant preacher, that the land is haunted by demons. This drives her to madness, one that threatens to consume Emma as well in her later isolation.
While The Wind‘s slow pace builds atmosphere and dread, it also risks trying the patience of viewers. Fortunately, it never completely stalls. This is largely down to the work of Caitlin Gerard, who plays Lizzy. I’d estimate that over half of the scenes are of her in isolation. Without dialogue or another actor to play off, she has to engage the audience on her own, and largely succeeds.
The real star of this film is the landscape, however. The wide-open spaces of the New Mexico brush are portrayed so powerfully that we feel the crushing loneliness of these farmsteads in every exterior shot. So much of horror in general is rooted in isolation, be it physical, social or emotional. In The Wind, it is all three.
At the same time, the supernatural horrors also feel very historically American. They are rooted in religion and sin in a way that feels quite alien in these more secular times, although they still carry cultural resonance. Whether or not these demons are real or delusions born of isolation is central to the film and the ambiguity helps maintain tension.
Probably my favourite trend in recent cinema has been those filmmakers who straddle the line between art-house and horror. We have devoted episodes to two such films — The Witch and Midsommar — although these are only a couple of representatives of a much larger movement. There is still plenty of room for the grimy, sleazy side of the genre, but it is exciting to see horror that aspires to be art.
This is certainly the territory in which The Wind has staked its claim. Whether or not it can claim to be successful in this is debatable. For all the gorgeous cinematography and strong performances, The Wind is a solidly average film.
There is a creeping sense of dread to The Wind but I’m not sure it’s ever quite as frightening as it wants to be. That’s not to say that it’s devoid of chills. Its main flaw, though, is that we have seen too much of what it offers before. The ambiguous descent into madness of the two female leads has strong echoes of films like Repulsion and The Babadook.
That said, the film still manages to pack a few punches. As the braided narratives unfurl, they bring grim revelations that undermine our understanding of the situation in an unnerving manner. This owes more to the way the story is told than the actual events, however.
If you like your horror slow and atmospheric, you will probably enjoy The Wind. It may fall short in some respects but it is still a solid, ambitious piece of filmmaking. If nothing else, it presents a setting we don’t often see in horror cinema and uses it beautifully. Whether or not this is enough to make up for the story being a little derivative will be down to the viewer.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!