Before even seeing The Wind, it had already garnered originality points. A slow and subtle period piece, described as a “Horror Western”. I’d booked my screening with TIFF before the trailer had even dropped, so I essentially pictured The Others with Nicole Kidman trading out a set of skeleton keys for a cowboy hat. It wasn’t quite that yee-haw of a Western, but I was still spot-on with my The Others envisioning.
Directed by Emma Tammi in her feature debut, The Wind opens with a solemn puzzle piece. A woman opens the wooden door to a late 1800’s cabin, covered in blood. She holds a small bundle, wrapped tightly. A stillborn baby. One of the two men waiting takes the bundle.. wandering into the wilderness. A tortured wail escapes him.
Another puzzle piece. A casket is lowered into the ground. The bundle is nestled near the hip of a second woman, who just so happens to be missing a good portion of her face.
The men pack up to leave. The first – to get supplies for winter, the second – to sell his family home, now that his family is in the ground. Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard, Insidious: The Last Key), the woman who delivered the stillborn baby, musters up a fraught goodbye. It will be days before her husband returns from the journey. Days she will spend alone in their house, no one around for miles. Days with just the wind.
Life on the prairies in the 1800’s is just about as exciting as you’d expect it to be. There are goats and chickens to feed, nails to hammer into things, candles to make, and if all your toiling is complete – you might be able to steal a few hours of quiet time to read one of your eight books by the hearth of the fire. Only, the wind sure is howling tonight. Better bundle up with every shawl you own – and no matter how hard it knocks, how convincing it may be, don’t answer the door for the wind.
Through a series of flashbacks, we are able to put together a bit of the history surrounding Lizzie and Isaac’s (Ashley Zukerman) life together, and how it changed when newcomers Emma (Julia Goldani Telles), who we only previously knew as the girl in the wooden coffin, and her husband Gideon (Dylan McTee) move into the only other house in the area, about one thousand paces across the field.
Emma and Gideon are young, and ill prepared for the coming winter. Lizzie and Isaac make an effort to be neighbourly to them, plowing their gardens, winterizing(?) the outhouse – even if being neighbourly does require considerable effort for the quiet, solemn pair.
Present day Lizzie is even more tightly wound. She keeps a manic-eyed awareness at all times. Always watching the front door. Not for her husband, no, he won’t be back for several days. She’s watching for something else. Something from outside. Something that rests in the day, and grows more confident by nightfall.
I’m trying very hard to be vague in this synopsis, because pensive films are entirely about the mood and the journey. The story (penned by Teresa Sutherland) may not be action-packed and injected with shallowly-executed excuses to terrorize (I’m looking at you, The Nun), so the real heart of this film lies in unraveling the relationships of these four characters, and the toll they, and the isolation of prairie life, have ultimately taken on Lizzie.
This film premiered as part of the Midnight Madness slate at TIFF, typically reserved for off-the-wall genre film. “Midnight Madness” evokes visions of blood, guts, gore, and stomach-churning violence. The Wind has none of those. But it does have a few spooky tricks up its sleeve. A lot of that comes down to sound. The film is often devoid of it. Lizzie exists inside a vacuum. Unless the wind decides to howl, or the rain decides to pour – her life has no soundtrack. The audience is lucky enough that ours indeed does have a soundtrack, and it comes as the well-placed and subdued string instruments plucking spookilly in the background behind particularly tense moments, in a score by Ben Lovett. Yes, I said spookilly.
“..there is a subtly to appreciate with the dancing of shadows and the spooks that make themselves apparent.”
As for other tricks – there is some haunting imagery to be found on the plains. Die-hard horror fans may find it a little lackluster, we are accustomed to more in-your-face frights, but there is a subtly to appreciate with the dancing of shadows and the spooks that make themselves apparent. The lack of anything other than fields and Lizzie for the majority of the film make the appearance of anything at all … kind of scarier than it ought to be.
Overall, The Wind delivers a subtle, paranormal fright – in a place that doesn’t offer much in the way of excitement. And, I’m pretty sure that was the point.