The opening images of Emma Tammi’s The Wind set up the dread to come. Outside of a home on the frontier, two men wait. It is windswept and desolate and wordless, the light a cold, foreboding pre-dawn blue. A woman emerges in white, covered in blood. What is it about her facial expression that is so memorable? She looks suspicious and shocked all at once given what she was forced to do, but mostly traumatized, crestfallen, defeated.
Tableaux like this is what The Wind does well. It is a lonely story, with just a handful of characters; yet the film is mostly carried by Caitlin Gerard and the textured mental landscape of her performance. The feminist take on familiar western tropes is also nicely done, used to explore the madness and isolation of life on the plain. Parts of the movie reminded me of The Witch in some ways. Both films even have a memorable goat.
Yet while I wanted to love The Wind, the plot and its construction left me wondering about the woman covered in blood and her motivations.
Director: Emma Tammi
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Gerard plays Lizzy, a quintessential frontier wife to quintessential frontiersman Issac (Ashley Zukerman). The couple lost a child years ago, which has left their home haunted by grief. A new couple moves into a house across the prairie, though they don’t seem long for this life on the range. Gideon (Dylan McTee) just doesn’t seem cutout for life away from civilization, and his wife Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) doesn’t seem all too keen on him now anymore. Emma may have her eyes on Issac. The loneliness of the plains may make an able fella more comely, and could heighten jealousies as well. In the dark, their neighbors are just a lone coal smoldering in the distance.
Those jealousies may be heightened when Emma becomes pregnant. Lizzy and Issac seem to have trouble conceiving again after losing their child, or at least they seem more distant. I got the sense that those feelings have never been processed or discussed. There’s something evil out in the frontier that threatens the safety of these homes, a malevolent presence on the wind and hidden in the night that’s told of in religious tracts.
The men of The Wind don’t believe the women in their lives, and they suffer for it. “It’s just the wind,” people tend to say in horror stories when they want to disregard a threat. The men implicitly say this any time the women express legitimate concerns. When Emma says she’s beset by demons, Gideon and Issac think she’s gone mad. Lizzy even turns on Emma, spurred by jealousy both romantic and maternal, or perhaps spurred by internalized misogyny. Perhaps she feels like she’s in a competition with Emma; women are often set against one another for no reason when they could be there to aid one another. Whatever the case, her disregard for the life of another woman in need is a complicated one given what we learn about both Lizzy and Emma, though I’ll come back to this in a bit.
I mentioned the notion of being haunted by grief, which is just one element of the evil spirit in The Wind. Issac is a capable provider but not a loving or supportive husband. It made me wonder how many times Lizzy may have wanted to talk about the loss of their child, but the discussion was stored away or shut down before it could happen. Left alone with her feelings of loss, what trauma has Lizzy been carrying privately. Which leads me to wonder whether there are really are demons out on the plain or if they are (at least in part) some manifestation of Lizzy’s wounded emotional state and Emma’s anxieties about making a life somewhere she doesn’t want to be.
Tammi’s stylish direction adds to the sense of chill and heightens the desperation and loneliness these women face. When your only neighbor is a bud of light in the blackness of night, it makes the little bumps and whispers (even by day) seem all the more menacing. Gerard is alone on screen for so much of the film, and her performance is compelling given her full investment in Lizzy and her fractured, multi-tiered emotional life. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief and the entire sound design team also deserve praise for making so much of The Wind compelling.
While I love what’s going on thematically in Teresa Sutherland’s script, I think my reservations about The Wind are rooted in the story’s structure. The film cuts back and forth between present action and flashback, with the two threads of narrative informing one another until they undermine one another. It is a tricky act of braiding, and led to some character reveals that made me question the thinking behind Lizzy’s actions. The biggest revelation, which I don’t want to spoil here, made me wonder why Lizzy wasn’t more understanding of Emma and her troubles. Thematically it seems like she was moved by jealousy mixed with internalized misogyny, but practically it seems like Lizzy did what she did because the script demanded it. She was subject not to the pervasive ideologies of patriarchal society, but the immediate dictates of the plot.
Part of me wonders if The Wind even needed the fractured chronology at all. There is such an engrossing psychological and supernatural portrait that could have been deepened if not for the jumps in time and recurring interruptions in dread. That may also be a personal issue I have with plot twists. When a twist doesn’t work for me, I wind up reevaluating (and retroactively disliking) what seemed to have worked prior to the twist. Technically what we learn in The Wind isn’t a twist, I suppose, but it feels like one since it’s made me logistically replay the whole movie in light of new information that was withheld.
There’s so much to praise about The Wind despite my qualms with it, and I’m interested in seeing what Tammi, Gerard, and Sutherland wind up doing next. The non-chronological presentation keeps me from recommending it, though. It turned my initial emotional investment into a cold, analytical reassessment.