Directed by Emma Tammi, The Wind is a grim, atmospheric study of a desolate environment that hides a dark secret.
The script was developed from true first-hand accounts of frontier women who settled in the prairies and were driven mad by the unrelenting howl of the wind. Written by Teresa Sutherland, the plot explores this madness through a dark supernatural influence as the characters panic about what evils could be moving through the dark nights.
Set in the 1800s, the story is told in a non-linear structure, meaning that the viewer jumps through the timeline to understand how the story unfolds, giving depth and significance to each character’s emotional state.
We follow Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard, Insidious: The Last Key), a young woman who is thrilled to see new “neighbours” move in to a nearby cabin. Across the vast field, their home is visible as just a flicker of light through the dark of night. Lizzy and her husband do their best to make the new couple feel welcome, but the new resident’s young wife, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles, Slender Man), struggles to adjust from her previous life in the city. The longer they stay, the stranger Emma’s actions become as she is convinced that an evil entity is after her. When Lizzy’s husband must leave home for a several-day-on-horseback journey, she starts to question her own comfort and safety in this oppressive isolation.
The film revels in its atmosphere – a bleak, hopeless tundra with no help in sight. Lizzy is our guide and unreliable narrator through the story. We stick to her side through the whole film, moving through the daily motions of necessary chores and feeling her terror as she faces each night alone.
Written, directed, edited, and designed by women, the relevance of lines of dialogue like “Don’t be unpleasant in front of the men” are not lost on the audience. This idea of the “hysterical woman” is communicated with an appropriate weight.
For a film that focuses on the madness supposedly caused by an unyielding wind, the sound design is obviously extremely important. The Wind utilizes silence in a way that pushes the plot forward, and it’s stunning. The opening sequence is completely silent – save for the constant howling of the wind – and it immediately sets a taut, unsettling tone.
Despite the limited dialogue, we gain a complete understanding of each character. In true pioneer fashion, it’s an economical script that doesn’t mince words. Every line of communication is direct and to-the-point.
The silence of the film envelops Lizzy and builds a deafening claustrophobia, where every spare inch is filled by that constant wind. It’s so powerful that in the extremely rare occurrences where the wind is not present, it’s a bit of a shock to the senses.
A driving score was composed for the film by Ben Lovett (The Ritual) using period instruments like the nyckelharpa to produce an earthly, haunting sound that plays on a base instinct we’ve long since forgotten.
Because of the tension that’s tightly coiled by the sound design, any sudden releases are sincerely frightening. There were a few moments in the TIFF screening where the whole audience physically jumped (a genuine response that I haven’t witnessed in a long time).
The Wind places the focus on the experiences of women in a period when their stories aren’t often told. Westerns typically focus on a glorified version of a man’s work, promptly ignoring the struggles that went into the development of land and maintenance of a household. It acts as a humbling look at the lifestyle and dangers of pioneer life in the prairies, and the fears that ran wild in such an unrestrained environment.
The non-linear storytelling can be a bit clunky at times, but it’s a necessary function in revealing the full story. Overall, The Wind is a quiet, twisting, thrilling horror-western that settles under your skin and prickles your senses.
The Wind will be playing next as part of Fantastic Fest’s 2018 lineup.