The Wind

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Caitlin Gerard as Lizzy Macklin in Emma Tammi’s The Wind.
"Teresa Sutherland's script finds Gothic tensions in a landscape where the imaginary has as much power to harm as the real." | Photo: courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

They were the last great wave of European immigrants to settle in North America and the most vulnerable, driven not by dreams of fame and fortune but simply by poverty and the longing for small patches of land from which hard work could scrape out a living. Used by those with greater power and influence to breach borders agreed with Native peoples, they travelled into areas rife with conflict or - perhaps worse from their perspective - onto those parts of the high northwestern plateau so bleak that, migratory hunting aside, nobody sought to inhabit them at all. Up there where the air is thin, even the wolves struggle for food. The only thing that thrives is the wind, sweeping across the plains at speeds sometimes over 100mph, scouring away settlements and, even in its quieter moments, seeming to whisper dreadful things.

To be all alone in such a place with only a wooden cabin for shelter evokes terror both primal and practical, and it is around this terror that Emma Tammi has structured her first feature film. She has a background in documentary and it shows in her attention to detail; every aspect of this film has been painstakingly researched. Teresa Sutherland's script finds Gothic tensions in a landscape where the imaginary has as much power to harm as the real, and themes of madness and spiritual decay are entangled with a concern with barrenness that takes in both the land and the people living on it.

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Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) is a practical woman, hardworking, under no illusions about what this life will demand of her - not the kind of person one might expect to falter easily. She may, as a German woman, be tempted to try and make sense of her new habitat through religious traditions focused as much on imps and demons as on God, but she has also inherited a common sense attitude to life that keeps her mind in check. Of course, the trouble with being this kind of person is that there are always others ready to take advantage of it. When a young couple move in nearby - the first neighbours she and her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) have had - she quickly finds herself called upon to take care of the mentally unstable Emma (Julia Goldani Telles). When Emma exploits the situation, however, she finds her strength pushed to the very limit and a dark presentiment takes hold.

Though there is conventional drama here and enough hints of the supernatural to push the film into the horror category, it is in essence a character study. We can never be fully certain how much of what we see is real and how much is inside Lizzy's head, but even those horrors with clearly mundane origins will be enough to leave most modern viewers deeply uncomfortable. Early scenes in which Isaac rides away on an essential errand and wolves circle Lizzie as she's hanging up her washing are enough to make clear the untamed nature of the place - she cannot let her guard down for an instant. At night, the wind rattles the windows and pushes at the door, seeking ingress. Tammi resists the urge to ramp up the sound of it. We get the message, together with the sense that this is a skilled predator biding its time.

It can be difficult to strike the right balance in stories with unreliable narrators, not wanting to be too heavy handed about imposing conclusions, and The Wind is sometimes incoherent, losing its narrative grip as a result. Gerard holds it together as best she can. Her performance, together with the atmosphere and the underlying emphasis on just how tough this way of life was, keeps the film watchable even in its weaker moments.

Cinema is full of stories about the men who supposedly tamed the West and, occasionally, the women who took on similar roles. By making a rare foray into the world of those women who did the less glamorous work, this film shows that it has every bit as much potential to thrill.

Reviewed on: 29 Mar 2019
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On the Western frontier of the United States of America in the late 1800s, a plains-woman is driven mad by the harshness and isolation of the untamed land.

Director: Emma Tammi

Writer: Teresa Sutherland

Starring: Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles

Year: 2018

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Abertoir 2018

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