THE FINAL WORD:
- Emma Tammi's First Feature Packs a Gust of Suspense and Chills.
The forces of nature tremble with an unseen evil in this chilling western tale of madness, paranoia, and supernatural terror howling across the homestead.
This review is part of a two part assignment that includes Christian A. Morán’s interview with director Emma Tammi. You can read the interview at: latinhorror.com/interview-emma-tammi-the-windIn her first outing as feature film director, Emma Tammi (Fair Chase, Election Day: Lens Across America) manages to tell a story in both zephyrs and gusts: there are gentle and tender moments that reveal character and take advantage of Teresa Sutherland’s economical and effective screenplay; then there are ear-piercing blasts that deliver the haunts that pervade the vast, barren landscape that makes up the universe of IFC Midnight‘s ‘THE WIND.’
‘The Wind’ is a supernatural and psychological folkloric/western horror fable that follows the hardships of four immigrant settlers in the 1800’s west as they attempt to create a home and family in a landscape hostile to them. But cultivating the earth and rearing children is this seemingly inhospitable land is but a small part of their challenges, as the soul of the very environment they hope to tame resists and strikes back.
Straight out the gate, we are shocked into consciousness as we witness a woman emerge from a cabin drenched in blood carrying a small linen-covered bundle and hands it to a wilted man, presumably the father-to-be. There is no mention of the mother or if she survived childbirth or accompanied the child into the great beyond. What we do know for certain via the birthing doula’s eyes is that she is trauma-stricken and her soul is now damaged goods. A moment later the dead woman is being buried along with her still-born infant and we see that half her face is missing—what kind of sorcery or parlor tricks are at work here?!
We also realize that as movie-going patrons, much more is expected of us than just the price of admission, we must also pay attention. Coasting on this film is not happening, put that shit to bed…
When we meet our main protagonist Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) in earnest, her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) is about to travel into town accompanied by the sullen widower to stock up on essentials before winter kicks in, a trip he readily admits will take “a couple of days. Maybe.” All she can do is watch them ride off into the sunset and return to the gruesome task of cleaning the table where the woman lost her battle with death. While alone, she fends off an attack by wolves who appear to be possessed by something more than biological hunger. So it’s welcome news when Isaac returns announcing that another young couple has moved into a home about a click from them, and have been invited to break bread that evening.
During the ensuing dinner discourse, it’s evident that their guests, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee), newly transplanted from the midwestern state of Illinois, lack the basic skills and organic fortitude needed to survive here, a fact underscored by the couple’s naive conviction that they know what they don’t know. But what is most disturbing is that Emma and Gideon are also the couple from the first scene, alive and well and talking about the prospects of a future. But how could this be? We also discover that the Macklins have suffered a tragic loss of their own while trying to expand their family unit (and that it’s a taboo subject). Later that evening the Macklins stand on their porch and peer across a moonlit field at a cabin at the end of the frame’s horizon with a single window aglow—close enough to reach in a short stroll—but far enough that it’s not within earshot, a detail that our modern horror sensibilities immediately make much use out of. These initial scenes set up (us included) a roller-coaster ride of bait-and-switch, false assumptions that lead us stray, and plenty of “WTF just happened?” moments. All of this is a good thing—trust us.
In cities, strangers stay strangers. Here we don’t have that luxury.
— Lizzy Macklin
The vastness of the region is a central figure in the film that is emphasized via epic panoramic shots, and it’s hard to imagine a family surviving here as there doesn’t seem to be any livestock or small game or even vegetation these so-called pioneers can consume, except for the requisite symbol that foreshadows demonic shenanigans in horror films: a Goat who is introduced to a quick round of buckshot in short order, but nevertheless makes another cameo. All of this helps to compound the post trauma that sporadically envelopes Lizzie, and the back-and-forth flashback montages that hit her like lightning strikes reinforce her sense of fragmentation, as well as our own. We are never sure if what is taking place is real, mere memories, delusions caused by the long-term isolation, is taking place in the past or present, or if it’s all mind tricks being triggered by an unknown force(s) at play. “WHAT DO YOU WANT, NOW?!”
Lyn Moncrief’s adept and foreboding cinematography makes good use of tobacco and other dead earth-tones that expand the anxiety and dread that steadily consumes the two couples in an encapsulated claustrophobia. He also uses the tried and true tropes of western filmmaking such wide establishing shots and central threshold compositions of frames-within-frames without it feeling cliché. Once you’ve seen the film think of those epic shots where we peer out from within the cabin and get a sense of dread for the great outdoor instead of seeking its open and vast freedom!
‘The Wind’ has a small but brilliant cast, and the charge is led by Caitlin Gerard, who turns in an amazingly nuanced performance as a woman tormented by demons, whether real or imagined, that are still powerful enough to topple her intuitive German resolve as she descends into madness. But Julia Goldani Telles is no slouch and gives as much as she takes as a tragic figure whose only destiny is to succumb to the bad decision of choosing such a place to call home, seems to know it, and we can read her thoughts in every side-eye she puts forward. Ashley Zukerman and Dylan McTee are fantastic as the straight men willing to throw out the pitches for the talented women to knock out the park, in between being effective in playing the strong and handy provider (albeit somewhat stoic), or the emasculated and cuckold husband (while the latter is never entirely confirmed), respectively. The couples are almost polar opposites of each other who also seem to be reliving each other’s traumatic intersectional histories. There is also a supporting cast member who also leaves his indelible mark as The Reverend, a mysterious and gritty shape-shifting frontier-grade evangelical drifter: Miles Anderson.
There is a deep and organic resonance between the various elements in the movie that seem to be orchestrated into a whole by the film’s titular element, while Ben Lovett‘s understated score features harmonics that pleasantly ride shotgun. Or at least it appears to be the case by design, and that requires restraint and maturity. Kudos for playing to the story and not the ego, as so many horror soundtracks seem to compete for top billing on the marquee these days at the detriment of every thing it should support. The sound design here is also elevated beyond the punctuated sound “stabs” we’ve come to expect as the norm in genre films. “LIZZIE, WHERE’S YOUR GUN!?”
We never see any Native Americans, anywhere. In fact the entire cast is comprised of just five actors. So the “karma has come to bite you in the ass for homesteading stolen land” is not an explicit through-line. But it’s there under the surface the entire time like a subterranean river running beneath our feet. But like much of the narrative and exposition is this movie, nothing is delivered on-the-nose. Again, the credit lies with the writer-director team, who sum up 100 years of genocide in the following few lines:
Emma: “It’s coming for me.”
Lizzie: “No one’s here but us.”
Emma: “No…This place is wrong. We’re not supposed to be here. And now it wants my baby.”
One could argue that this is akin to a sort of “transplant rejection” by the sacred, Native land, where the Eurocentric reproduction that will flourish to Colonize it is not allowed, or at least stayed off, if only for a moment. Some have equated the pestilence the settlers experience as an “evil presence,” while I would refer to it as an ingrained anxiety born of “guilt.” But I digress. Sorry…Not sorry.
Likewise, when Lizzie tells the wandering Reverend that “I don’t suspect God has much business out here,” she is not mixing metaphors because in this desolate and unforgiving place, even an agent of the Lord’s work can turn out to be the devil’s representative. And that too shall come to pass.
To give away any more would take away from your theatrical experience and provide too many spoilers. So we leave you at the edge of the narrative storytelling frontier…You’ll have to travel the rest of the way on your own, which is as it should be. If you dare.
Whether you want to read into a more colonialism take on it or an environmental take on it. We are ruining our planet right now. There is so many ways, I think, to read into it allegorically and I really hope people do. It was an undertone.
— Emma Tammi
“Babeal” – Keeper of Graves. Eater of Bones. Bearer of unhallowed ground.
“Mara” – Damner of Souls. Twists the mind of men leading them away from the Lord our God.
“Merihim” – Prince of Pestilence. Bringer of disease.”
“Succorbenoth” – Bringer of Jealous Thoughts”
Director Emma Tammi came onto the project after the script was already written but got to spend several months with writer Teresa Sutherland doing revisions and the symbiotic collaboration is evident. There are several moments when we are tapped on the shoulder by Tammi’s slight-of-hand and spin around in the direction we think the story is headed and are caught off guard in a new and unexpected way. Those moments are pure cinematic storytelling magic, and a preview of the skills in this emerging director’s toolbox.
One critique that followed the film’s premiere at Telluride Film Festival in 2018 was that is was a “slow-boil” or “slow burn.” Neither was meant as a compliment, and often delivered in dully backhanded terms. But this is a contention with which I must disagree. I admire the resolute creative choice of the long, art-house-length establishing shots. And because the story takes place in another epoch where time wasn’t measured in the same manner as it is today, I never felt taken out of any moment during the course of the film. But in the end, a few extra frames here and there is the same difference between “to-ma-to” and “to-ma-toe”: it’s matter of subjective preferential taste, but nothing that will ruin the experience regardless. But we queried Tammi, however, about her choice during our one-on-one interview with her:
“I thought it would be powerful visually, performance wise, sound design-wise, to sit with those characters, to sit in that environment and to sit in that day-in-and-day-out routine that is not common to us right now in 2019,” said Tammi. “So I felt like the bigger scares, bigger plop points wouldn’t pay off as much if we hadn’t been immersed ourselves in that world for a little bit.” Doubling down on her creative choices, she added: “I think the long shot choices were really an intentional decision. I think we wanted to create discomfort at times through just staying still.” She also gave a tip-of-the-hat to her DP (Moncrief) for heavily informing the film’s strong visual style.
The term “We Got Next” is not a just political rallying call, as women increasingly take control over the narrative in the entertainment industry, and add their own valuable voices and points of view as well. AND it’s about time. With her work on ‘The Wind,’ Tammi puts that maxim into practice. In addition to the director and writer being female, there are other crucial crew positions informed by a feminine touch. This includes the sibling production design team of Hillary and Courtney Andujar, and Alexandra Amick, who rounds out editing duties on the film’s impressive non-linear structure.
Asked about the press-getting “feminist approach” on ‘The Wind,’ Tammi is quick to point out that the most feministic thing she did was “…turning the camera to the person who stayed behind and not following the man going off into town,” she said. “And while the story follows four people, it’s really only one person [Lizzie], so this was never going to be a film that told everyone’s story.”
‘The Wind” comes along at a time when the horror genre is re-calibrating itself from nearly two decades of mind-numbing violence and jump scares to a more settled cerebral storytelling convention that while couched in horror is also providing long trails of character development that has patrons of the genre responding in kind. Do yourself a favor and catch a suspenseful film that gives us the chills, doesn’t talk down to us (or blow out our ears), and gives us a perspective that is much-needed in our industry (and elsewhere): the female creative voice.
The Wind’ blows into theaters and VOD on April 5th.
CAST: Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Miles Anderson, Dylan McTee
DIRECTOR: Emma Tammi
WRITTEN BY: Teresa Sutherland
PRODUCED BY: Christopher Alender, David Grove
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
DISTRIBUTOR: IFC Midnight