The Wind: Upon the Devil’s Lake, by David Bax
What seems like ten full minutes goes by in Emma Tammi’s eye-catching new film The Wind before anyone speaks a word of dialogue. There’s not exactly a wagonload more of them that follow, either. The starkness is emblematic of life in the hardbitten prairie of 1800s America for our four main characters, who make up two married couples scratching out an existence one plowed field and pulled weed at a time, with the threat of winter always drafting in on the wind of the title. What they don’t yield in crops, Tammi pulls out in metaphors that are powerful, if occasionally too schematic.
Tammi’s feminist horror western tells the tale of Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) and Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), who have been living on their own in the middle of an unnamed prairie territory for years when Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) build a house and start a farm nearby. Since The Wind is told non-chronologically, we know almost from the start that things don’t work out so well for the new couple but we learn in snatches how they come to meet their misfortune as well as why Lizzy and Isaac’s life is not so idyllic as it seems.
Often, when a film blends two genres as distinctive as these, one tends to dominate. Refreshingly, The Wind is every bit as much a Western as it is a horror movie. That’s perhaps most true in Lyn Moncrief’s cinematography. He gives us the widescreen vistas we want from this period and setting but presents them in the kind of anxious, off balance compositions that leave you always wondering from where the danger is going to creep in.
Lizzy is the main character—about half the movie features her and her alone (or is she?)—and Gerard’s performance is a fittingly commanding one, with a thoughtful toughness and physicality that recalls Blake Lively in The Shallows. She’s the perfect horror movie heroine in that she’s resilient yet smart enough to know when to be scared. Telles, whose erratic vibe is not unlike that of another Traveling Pants sister, Alexis Bledel, makes quite an impression, too, as Emma is the one who’s most tapped into—and most vulnerable to—the ambiguous evil in the air.
Gerard and Telles make a good pair, as they must because so much of their time is spent with their husbands away in the fields or, in more dire circumstances, waiting outside while sickness or childbirth are tended to. On the surface, it’s a stirring depiction of the fortitude of pioneer women but, beneath that, it’s an illustration of how often women are left to fend for themselves and each other in our man’s world. Even though she is “provided for” in the most basic, empirical sense by her husband’s and her own mutual hard work, Lizzy’s psychological and emotional landscape is not one that Isaac cares to share. The most telling line in The Wind comes when Lizzy is asked why, if she knows what unspeakable thing lives in this place, she hasn’t left. “My husband doesn’t believe me,” is her terse reply.
Tammi’s assured hand with the aesthetics and the actors alike makes her a name to anticipate more from. The Wind’s only shortcoming is that it lets itself be overtaken by its themes in the final minutes, leaving the narrative to become too diffuse. That’s a minor complaint, though, for a movie as compelling—not to mention as frightening—as this one.