THE WIND – Review by Marietta Steinhart

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Emma Tammi’s feature film debut The Wind is a wildly promising feminized horror-revision of the Western Frontier with a powerhouse female lead.

Going back and forth in time while remaining in the same desolate cabin, Emma Tammi’s directorial feature debut The Wind journals the unraveling of Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard), a German immigrant and sensitive frontierswoman, holding down the farm with a rifle while her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), rides off into the sunset.

“I was so struck by this script, because I grew up, as many of us did, watching westerns that follow the men when they leave the homestead”, says Emma Tammi after a special screening at the IFC Center in Manhattan. “As one of our actors pointed out, unlike all those classics, this film stays with the women. I found that premise fascinating”, she continues. Having already co-directed documentaries such as Fair Chase (2014) and Election Day: Lens Across America (2017) she found herself directing an American horror western, in which lonesomeness is the boogeyman.

It really is a fascinating slow burn, rich in psychological terror. Lizzy and Isaac live beyond the boundaries of civilization, working the wasteland on the 19th-century American frontier. When they are joined by new settlers  (Julia Goldani Telles and Dylan McTee),  a couple of urban newlyweds, Lizzy and Isaac are all too happy to help them adjust to life on the plains. But when Emma gets pregnant and begins to sense a sinister presence, Lizzy’s own concerns about the Godless nature of the land return. What’s that howling in the middle of the night? Is her mind playing tricks on her? Or is there something out there? The men dismiss the women as crazy – but are they really?

The “mad woman” trope is one that we have all seen many times, but Emma Tammi hopes that her film feels like a fresh take on that. It is and it is not. The Wind wants to sympathize with a woman’s worst fears – and demons, weather they are real or not, but it also leans into a cliché, that not everyone might appreciate. “The day-to-day living on the prairie was so hard that I thought: How could anyone stay in this environment and not loose it? It was tapping into empathy for that”, says the director.

Rich in atmosphere, beautifully shot and well edited (by Alexandra Amick), cinematographer Lyn Moncrief (The Scent of Rain & Lightning) has created some magnificent images. Ben Lovett’s (The Ritual) score of screaming crescendos plays also a big part in establishing the bleak tone, as well as the agonizing sound design (by Matt Davies) of creaking wooden floors and crying wind. But perhaps the most haunting sounds and the most terrifying things are the ones we do not hear and do not see: a baby that does not scream or a creature that lurks in the dark.

Julia Goldani Telles (The Affair) stands out as Emma and Ashley Zuckerman does a very fine job as loving but often absent husband, who or may or may not be cheating on his dutiful wife, but this film belongs to Caitlin Gerard (Insidious: The Last Key). Much of the plot rests on her shoulders and she is nothing short of exceptional. Most of the time, in the present moment, her character is alone in her cabin, trying to keep the inner and outer blackness at bay. She has little to play against, except for the occasional goat or wolf, yet she shows an impressive inner strength and wide range of emotions.

“The fear of isolation is something maybe we can all relate to, but there was a specifically female angle to this and I think it was the complexity and the nuance of that, that felt really relevant to me reading it in the year 2017”, Tammi says about the script, written by Teresa Sutherland (The Winter, 2012).

We have seen female-led Westerns before, such as Maggie Greenwald’s revisionist Western The Ballad of Little Jo (tackling issues of gender identity, misogyny and racism), Kelly Reichardt’s exceptional Meek’s Cutoff and the Natalie Portman-produced Jane Got a Gun – to name just a few. Robert Eggers’ The Witch also comes to mind, a superb horror-drama that explores themes like female isolation and paranoia on the grim American frontier, showing us a family being driven to the brink of madness. But none of these films have dealt with sheer loneliness in such nuanced manner.

The Wind is not perfect, it overplays its hand a bit, but it shows, without a doubt, that the women in and behind this film are forces to be reckoned with.

What The Fest!? is an annual event that took place March 20 – 24, 2019 at the IFC Center, and is programmed by creative director Maria Reinup. IFC Midnight will be releasing The Wind in theaters and On Demand on April 5, 2019.

ABOUT MARIETTA STEINHART: Born and raised in Vienna, Marietta Steinhart is a New York City based film critic, contributing to Zeit Online, among other media, covering US cinema and TV. She’s an esteemed member of The International Federation of Film Critics and a frequent juror in Film Festivals.

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