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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.05.19] horror

Feature debut from director Emma Tammi and writer Teresa Sutherland, The Wind is a period horror set in the Western frontier of late 1800s America. Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard) and her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) are a married couple eking out a frugal life on the plains when another couple move into the abandoned farm nearby. Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) are city folk attempting to start a new life - hopelessly unprepared, they begin to rely on Lizzie and her husband for support. This intrusion deepens the already troubled Lizzie's state of mind; she believes the area to be haunted by a 'prairie demon', a malicious spirit which travels on the wind.

The Wind has been favourably compared to The Witch and The Babadook, which is understandable given its tone and subject matter, although the film never quite feels as polished or effective as those films. Creepy imagery and occasional jump-scares abound, but the story often feels uneven, and despite its short running time, repetitive. It's a slow-burn piece with some very pretty scenery, and Tammi and Sutherland give us time to get to know the various players before plunging us into the demonic stuff. I appreciated this approach.

Lizzie and Isaac are seasoned ranchers, and while they initially welcome the company of their new neighbours, there seems something strange about the couple. Gideon is distant, aloof, and Emma seems spooked and uneasy with life on the farm. Emma gives Lizzie a book, 'Demons of the Prairie', as a result of which Lizzie begins to spiral into superstitious obsession. When Isaac leaves for market, Lizzie is left alone in their little cabin...

The story is told in a slightly fractured, non-linear fashion; we see the aftermath of events intercut with flashbacks (although it's not always clear exactly when we are) as Lizzie's fevered imagination continually plays tricks on her. Gerard gives a strong, committed performance in an emotionally demanding role. Telles underplays her part nicely too - she is an appropriately ominous and sinister harbinger.

The main problem with The Wind is one of familiarity. Once the essential idea is established, it's a matter of setting up a series of scare-scenes, leading inexorably to a climactic denouement as Lizzie's mental deterioration reaches crisis point. The most effective scenes are small character interactions which develop a sense of creeping dread, as opposed to the noisier 'gotcha' moments involving jump-scares. Lizzie is visited by a wandering pastor (Miles Anderson), whom she invites inside for a modest dinner. Their muted conversation and Lizzie's dire warnings prove far more effective in generating atmosphere than any shock tactics. There is a nice payoff to this scene.

Ultimately, The Wind is fairly standard horror fare; there are possessed animals, weird shadows in windows cast in flickering candle light, and a hectic finale during which all hell breaks loose and we're treated to an ironic twist (standard at this point), but nothing about the film stands out as particularly inspired. Keep this in mind and you might enjoy the parts that work, but don't expect the film to take you anywhere you haven't been before.

Recommended Release: The Babadook

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