Part little-house-on-the-prairie pioneer drama and part cheap-scare ghost story, director Emma Tammi’s The Wind tries to do too much and ends up achieving not quite enough despite its best efforts. It’s the definition of a movie whose ambitions exceed what ends up on screen. Will you feel the wind-swept hardship and eerie isolation of life on the American frontier in the 1800s? Yes. Will you appreciate that the story comes from a female writer and director, and is seen through the eyes of a strong, independent heroine? Absolutely. Will you jump in your seat and maybe get a migraine as the composer and sound editor work overtime to unsettle you with screechy, atonal strings and jack-in-the-box sound effects? And how.
The film stars a hauntingly intense Caitlin Gerard (the best thing in the movie, by far) as Lizzy Macklin — a German immigrant who’s found a peaceful patch of earth in the middle of nowhere to put down roots with her handy, God-fearing husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman). Life is hard… and also lonely. At least until a couple of newlyweds named Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) move in about a mile away. At first, their arrival seems like a blessing. Finally, some neighbors. But Gideon is useless as a farmer and Emma turns out to be a bit of a handful, unsuited to both married and frontier life. She’s also, it turns out, a fertile target for demonic possession.
Tammi (making her feature directing debut) and screenwriter Teresa Sutherland chop up their narratively thin story with a lot of jarring, impatient deck-shuffling flashbacks, sabotaging some fine performances and whatever momentum the film has in the process. Just when you start to settle into the story’s rhythm, the spell gets broken by either the film’s disorienting chronology or its cheap, shock-cut trickery and horror beats that are more distracting than clever — or even particularly scary, for that matter. It’s a shame, because Gerard gives the kind of performance that makes you want to lean in and focus on what she’s doing. You never get the chance.
The Wind flirts with some interesting themes about postpartum depression, female jealousy, hallucinatory paranoia, and hellfire possession, all goosed by a feminist twist in what’s typically a masculine genre. Is Emma really in the thrall of a prairie demon, or is this just a figment of Lizzy’s imagination since her new neighbor is about to have the child she was unable to? There’s enough potential unreliable-narrator fuzziness to Gerard’s character that the film could have become far more interesting (and profound) if it wasn’t so hell-bent on taking the easy way out with its supernatural nonsense. The moments that work the best are the ones where Tammi lets the pace and pulse slow down, lets the ominous wind whistle and groan, and it isn’t trying to turn The Wind into Meek’s Cutoff as interpreted by the director of Insidious. B-
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