Emma Tammi’s solo feature directorial debut The Wind begins with one of the most striking opening scenes I’ve seen all year, one that immediately digs its claws in and lets you feel the threat of this place you’re about to spend the next 90 minutes in. The sheer terror never dissipates but ultimately, The Wind fails to stick its landing, relegating it to a solid in-theater scare rather than one that seeps in and follows you after.
Caitlin Gerard leads as Lizzy. It’s the 1800s on the American Western frontier and she’s living in complete isolation with her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman). But, that changes when they get some new neighbors that they can just make out in the distance, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee). New friendly faces are welcomed, but when Emma becomes increasingly disturbed by the incessant whispering wind, Lizzy’s prior concerns about the sinister nature of the land resurface and are bolstered by the resulting violence.
If you’re eager for more Westerns, The Wind will no doubt satisfy the itch to experience a story set in a desolate place that requires one to work their land and clutch their rifle to survive. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief crafts some downright stunning visuals that beautifully capture both the quaint charm and danger of frontier living. Ben Lovett’s score is also a major factor in establishing the unshakable dread associated with the evil you know is haunting the land, as is the impeccable sound design that provides one bone-chilling jolt after the next.
But most of the pressure here is on Gerard. The non-linear narrative jumps from a confident, capable Lizzy to one that’s just short of losing her mind, and Gerard shows off the range to handle both with some very effective added complexity. The idea of Lizzy merely filling “the wife” role in Isaac’s life is on display throughout the film. She’s known there’s something wrong with the land, but Isaac doesn’t believe her and refuses to budge on the issue, and this issue is expertly woven into the horror component of the story. It’s not just about pinpointing the evil and defeating it; we get to see how Lizzy chooses to manage her relationship with Isaac, when she opts to step up and take control, and also fall pray to the madness that comes from his lack of support and the present threat that’s right outside her door.
Gerard really nails every single beat of Lizzy’s journey, so it’s unfortunate that the structure of her story winds up unraveling as it progresses. The Wind finds great success with atmosphere and sucking you into Lizzy’s nightmare, but by holding back certain story details, screenwriter Teresa Sutherland winds up leaving the viewer with less to think about when the film wraps up. The premise of a demon praying on the American frontier is strong, but The Wind misses the mark when it comes to “saying something” with its narrative. No, not every movie needs a life changing message or a breakdown of the basics of its demon, but in this case, it feels as though Tammi is trying to get at something important by way of the horror genre and then leaves you just out of reach of it.
But even then, The Wind shows off a level of care and craftsmanship that suggests that Tammi is a director well worth keeping an eye on. Gerard made a strong impression earlier this year in Insidious: The Last Key, but her work in The Wind is undeniable proof that she can and deserves to carry more films. Telles is another standout as Emma, which is mighty refreshing after the disastrous Slender Man. The Wind may be a quick, immersive thrill that stops short of making a lasting impression but hopefully it’ll have a lasting effect by putting Gerard, Telles and Tammi more firmly on the map.