A film by Emma Tammi
“this place is wrong, we’re not supposed to be here.”
If the year 2020 taught us anything, it’s that prolonged periods of isolation, loneliness, and stress can lead to very harmful consequences for anyone afflicted with all the above. Covid-19 brought things into the spotlight, from a mental health perspective, that have been largely ignored for over one hundred years, namely that isolation periods and separations (like lockdown orders and quarantines) are not always a good idea. These are all tools to combat the spread of disease but have potentially devastating consequences for mental health. Stepping away from the modern era, The Wind, a folk horror film directed by Emma Tammi looks at perhaps the most notorious historical version of this affliction.
“Lizzy is a tough, resourceful frontierswoman settling a remote stretch of land on the 19th-century American frontier. Isolated from civilization in a desolate wilderness where the wind never stops howling, she begins to sense a sinister presence that seems to be borne of the land itself, and when a newlywed couple arrive at a nearby homestead, their presence amplifies Lizzy’s fears, setting into motion a shocking chain of events.”
This film tackles the Nineteenth Century “prairie madness” or “prairie fever” phenomenon of the frontier era in American history showing it for what it could be – a terrifying ordeal for all involved. With big hopes and dreams of free land to call their own, and the prosperity that could come for it, some settlers doomed themselves to terrible fates in relative isolation. In the film, the character of Lizzy is left all alone for an extended period of time due to a series of tragic events, spiraling into a serious case of “prairie Madness”, but what exactly is that? According to the infallible Wikipedia, “Settlers moving from urbanized or relatively settled areas in the East faced the risk of mental breakdown caused by the harsh living conditions and the extreme levels of isolation on the prairie. Symptoms of prairie madness included depression, withdrawal, changes in character and habit, and violence. Prairie madness sometimes resulted in the afflicted person moving back East or, in extreme cases, suicide.”
People have a tendency to romanticize the so-called Antebellum Period of the United States, but always seem to forget just how horrifying life outside of big cities could be. This film captures that terror very well, avoiding all the external threats like ruffians and natives that most period pieces delve into, opting instead for nature itself as the chief antagonist. Small details like scenes where one just hears the howling wind blasting across the prairie are unnerving and instantly make the viewer realize how easily somebody could succumb to all manner of poor thoughts due to it. The wind almost seems like an entity in and of itself, seemingly intelligently attacking Lizzy – blowing out lit candles and fireplaces, slamming doors and windows, and roaring through the landscape non-stop.
The film is told in a non-linear manner, which not only ramps the tension up, but makes the film not suffer the same sort of “slow-burn” pacing that many criticize films like The VVitch for. The film opens with Lizzy standing outside of her farmstead door, drenched in blood and looking distraught, we have no idea what has happened, but you immediately know it was surely not good. The film then goes back and forth showing a scene of her decent into madness followed by a past scene fleshing out how we got to where we were at the beginning. This happened in this see-saw manner until the end. For some, such a narrative structure can be confusing, but I loved it.
The film stars Caitlin Gerard as Lizzie Macklin, I’m not too familiar with her work in the past, but she does very well here. This is especially important that much of the film is basically Lizzie reacting to things going on around her, Gerard’s facial expressions and mannerisms pull off several scenes that would have fallen flat had a competent actor not been in place. The cast is rounded out by Julia Goldani Telles as Emma Harper, Dylan McTee as Gideon harper, Ashley Zuckerman as Isaac Macklin and Miles Anderson as The Reverend. Everyone in the cast mostly does TV work or lower budget horror film, so I was surprised the acting was pretty decent all around.
I think the biggest triumph of The Wind is the films decision to allow Lizzie to be the character that we see the film from but keep her as an unreliable narrator. We can surmise that what we are sometimes seeing is not exactly correct the moment she is attacked by wolves early on in the film. After that point, the film is as much trying to decipher reality as it is trying to figure out how the film will get to where it was at the beginning. In the beginning Lizzie is a sympathetic character that the audience can relate to fairly well, but as the film continues, she becomes less and less likeable, and perhaps more insidious. We don’t really see her actions, or anyone else’s for that matter, come against a true antagonist. In many ways Lizzy is her own villain and has allowed her perception of nature to control her.
I was worried that this film, like many horror films in this mold, would possibly ruin everything by having an oddly-placed, poorly rendered, CGI creature or some such in the film. Thankfully, despite a bit of supernatural hijinks, we don’t really have that for many reasons (I’m trying my best not to spoil it here). The movie is somehow small and claustrophobic despite the open vastness of the prairie that the characters exist in, it’s a perfect metaphor for the terror the director was going for and would work similarly well in a science fiction space film in my opinion.
Overall, The Wind is by no means a perfect film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I am drawn to the entire concept of “Prairie Madness” for some reason, as it’s one of those chapters that never gets talked about too much in history. Perhaps it was largely an example of men trying to pathologize the stress and burdens of womanhood at the time (as they tend to do), but there’s something completely unnerving about losing one’s grip on reality because of monotony and the mere sound of wind. It’s a scary film that doesn’t go overboard on gore, is well-paced, and acted well. If films like The VVitch and Midsommar started a new wave of folk horror film, films like The Wind take that idea and move well past the idea that the “genre” should always be concerned with the battle between new ideas and old ways, or Christianity vs Paganism. When it’s all said and done, there’s nothing scarier than nature itself.
There is even a promotional videogame based on the film HERE