'The Wind': Film Review | TIFF 2018

Hell on the range.

Caitlin Gerard ('Insidious: The Last Key') stars in director Emma Tammi’s Western horror flick, which premiered in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section.

A femme-centric Western and supernatural horror flick all rolled into one log cabin in the middle of nowhere, The Wind marks an admirable if somewhat, er, overblown feature debut from screenwriter Teresa Sutherland and director Emma Tammi.

Loaded with atmosphere, this fragmented chiller is set far out on the American frontier, where a lonely wife — played by an intense Caitlin Gerard — starts seeing and hearing things that may be the work of her imagination or some sort of Insidious of the West, or both. Well-shot and edited, with a script that keeps you guessing for a certain stretch of time, The Wind doesn’t quite sustain the tension through the final reel, resorting to eye-rolling scare tactics that go from serious to way too silly. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see such an original stab at this type of indie genre-bender, especially one told from a strictly female point of view.

Jumping around in time while staying glued to the same remote location, the film chronicles the unraveling of Elizabeth Macklin, aka Lizzy (Gerard), a shotgun-wielding woman-of-the-plains holding down the ranch while her God-fearing husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), heads off to do the things men did back then. Left to her own devices — or has she always been there, by herself? — Lizzy’s mind seems to be playing tricks on her. Is that goat alive or dead? Why is she scrubbing blood off the kitchen table? Whose body is being buried? Who’s that knockin’ on the door?

Flashbacks reveal that Lizzy and Isaac were not entirely alone at one point, with a pair of young and eager newlyweds — the porcelain doll-like Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and her husband, Gideon (Dylan McTee) — moving in across the valley and introducing some tension, sexual or otherwise, between the two couples. Yet the fact that we see Emma’s cold, dead corpse at the start of the movie doesn’t bode well for the burgeoning relationship, while more leaps to the past reveal how a traumatic event may have scarred Lizzy forever, driving her to the brink of madness.

Sutherland’s script sustains interest for a portion of the running time, dishing out clues in fits and starts until a general hokeyness begins to take over, leading to a finale that zaps most of the suspense out of the picture. Tammi, who directed a handful of shorts and TV docs, uses razor-sharp cutting (by editor Alexandra Amick) and throbbing audio effects (by sound designer Matt Davies) to keep us on the edge of our seats. The technique works well at times, especially when it relies purely on images and sounds; less so when it resorts to flat dialogue and paranormal mumbo jumbo.

If you put aside the B-grade shocks, The Wind plays best when focusing on the hardship and loneliness of a woman like Lizzy, who's forced to fend for herself while her husband constantly rides off into the sunset. There have been several female-driven Westerns before — Rancho Notorious, Forty Guns and the recent Meek’s Cutoff and Jane Got a Gun come to mind — but perhaps none that have concentrated so much on the helplessness and isolation of their heroine. In essence, Lizzy can do very little beyond sit around the homestead and try not to go too stir-crazy. As that becomes increasingly difficult, especially for someone so alone, there’s nothing to protect her from the demons lurking out there in the wilderness, or somewhere inside her.    

Production companies: Soapbox Films, Divide/Conquer
Cast: Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zukerman, Miles Anderson, Dylan McTee
Director: Emma Tammi
Screenwriter: Teresa Sutherland
Producers: Christophe Alender, David Grove Churchill Viste
Executive producers: Adam Hendricks, Greg Gilreath, John Lang, Zac Locke, Henry Jacobson, David A. Smith, Emma Tammi
Director of photography: Lyn Moncrief
Production designers: Hillary Andujar, Courtney Andujar
Costume designer: Kate De Blasio
Editor: Alexandra Amick
Composer: Ben Lovett
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Midnight Madness)
Sales: ICM (U.S.), XYZ Films (International)

86 minutes