“You have died of dysentery.”
If you read that famous proclamation on your computer screen in elementary school, it meant you were playing Oregon Trail, the game that first exposed many a youth to the horrors of settling the west. In the text-based game, if dysentery didn’t get you, likely you’d succumb to measles, broken bones, typhus, drowning, cholera or even plain ol’ exhaustion. (Being a pioneer really sucked.) Absent from the list is “prairie demon,” but luckily writer Teresa Sutherland and director Emma Tammi add that danger to the Big List of Prairie Buzzkills in their debut feature The Wind.
Set in the early days of the American frontier, the film stars Caitlin Gerard (The Social Network, Magic Mike, Insidious: The Last Key) as Elizabeth Macklin, a tough, capable young woman who, along with her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zuckerman), embarks on a life of farming in the unforgiving west. It’s a lonely existence, so when another couple – Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee) – moves into a nearby cabin, it’s a godsend. Or, it would be if something insidious hadn’t come to call. Seems there’s a presence in the very land itself – a demon that takes the form of strangers, friends, even animals, as it seeks to destroy the settlers. Soon, Lizzy is dealing with wolves, the increasingly unstable Emma, and her own creeping paranoia. As is usually the case with these types of tales, her husband brushes off her concerns as irrational hysteria, so Lizzy is left to fend for herself, and realizes the thing won’t stop until it kills them all – newborns included.
Or… is Lizzy simply losing her mind? The Wind offers plenty of evidence that may also be the case. The film’s flashback structure only serves to further disorient the audience. While the approach is intended – presumably – to mirror Lizzy’s increasingly fractured state, it makes the story difficult to follow. That coupled with the rather drab look of the movie – its gorgeous rolling vistas appeared murky and bland at the TIFF screening I attended – is tedious. (The woman beside me in the theatre fell asleep during the movie, while the man beside her started texting.) Too bad, because both Sutherland and Tammi are obviously talented; there are strong ideas here, including the evil presence appearing in a shower of sparks and a book about demons on the prairie that hints at a much larger mythology.
Overall, The Wind feels like an intriguing short stretched out to feature length. By the end of it, you’re left wanting – for resolution, more demonic horror and a clearer story. So, while there’s no disputing that dying of dysentery is the worst, dying of boredom must also be avoided at all costs.