Emma Tammi turns the notion of the quaint ‘little house on the prairie’ on its head in a chilling, slow-burn horror set on the far reaches of the Western frontier. THE WIND stars Caitlin Gerard as a plains-woman forced to confront an unseen enemy on her isolated homestead in a feminist rewrite of the Western mythos.
Having established themselves in a remote cabin on a vast plain, Lizzy (Gerard) and her husband Isaac (Ashley Zuckerman) do what they can to aid their new neighbours Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) in preparation for a harsh winter. However, it’s not long before strange happenings occur and Lizzy fears a mysterious presence lurking in the wind.
Told in a nonlinear fashion, the story gradually reveals flashbacks of two different timelines leading to the present narrative first introduced with a stillbirth and double funeral. Lizzy scrubs the blood from her hands with the fury of Lady Macbeth, before her eyes gloss over and drift towards a tantalising rifle. Tammi sets the tone wonderfully, establishing the despair and crushing loneliness of frontier life not often seen in the Western genre. For her first narrative feature, it is a surprisingly polished production. By holding back on gore and maintaining a gentle pace, the result is a largely atmospheric horror, relying on the natural landscape to instil much of the fear. The desolation of the prairie is depicted through creaking window shutters, billowing wind, clothes strung up to dry on a structure resembling a cross and muted colours to convey a barren and never-ending land. An eerie silence is punctuated with a score of screeching string instruments. Somehow, even a goat manages to be creepy. The frontier is stripped of promise and transformed into the loneliest place in the world.
“An eerie silence is punctuated with a score of screeching string instruments. Somehow, even a goat manages to be creepy. The frontier is stripped of promise and transformed into the loneliest place in the world.”
The land that once represented hope for a better life is death-ridden here. While surveying the damage from a storm, Lizzy holds a dead chick in her hands, illustrating the futility of life. One must survive by looking out for themselves – a theme explored in the past but mainly attributed to cowboys. Here, Lizzy expresses the desire to protect herself and the home she has built. While Isaac fits the part of rugged frontiersman who wishes to help their neighbours, Lizzy is frustrated by the prospect of caring for those seemingly incapable of living in the harsh wilderness. THE WIND succeeds at exemplifying the hostility of the frontier through a more understated setting, with the constant fear of the unknown. This isn’t the sun-soaked world of John Wayne and Hollywood’s golden era but more the cutthroat survival and muddied terrain akin to DEADWOOD. The men are allowed to cross the land to find life in town, but the film remains on the homestead with the women and their increasing alienation.
Through flashbacks, it becomes clear that neither Emma nor Gideon are made for frontier life. She is driven mad by the same alleged demon that haunts Lizzy in the present timeline. Emma believes something is after her unborn child as a possible punishment for occupying the land. Lizzy is prompted to recall the many grave markers she passed on her initial journey to their new home, including a nifty pamphlet titled ‘Demons of the Prairie’ with a monstrous figure on the cover. Lizzy grows to distrust Emma and fears for her own safety as she too becomes convinced of a beast stalking the dreary land. Isaac is quick to dismiss her talk of demons, but this only strengthens her resolve to learn the truth. Telles’ monotone voice frustrates but is compensated by Gerard’s quietly confident performance; many scenes feature just her and the foreboding atmosphere resigning over the prairie.
An allegorical tale of depression in a godforsaken environment, the film is an accomplished work that offers value to both the Western and horror genres. While some of the supernatural elements would have been more effective if they remained metaphorical, THE WIND nevertheless gets under your skin as it explores the fragility of the human psyche in seclusion.