Documentary director Emma Tammi's feature film debut “The Wind” initially seems of a piece with recent female-centered Westerns such as “Meek's Cuttoff” and “The Homesman.” Focusing on German immigrant Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), the film quickly draws viewers into the daily challenges facing a female settler attempting to establish a homestead with her devoutly religious husband in the vast and unforgiving landscape of the American West in the late 1800s. Omnipresent is an oppressive sense of isolation, embodied by the ceaseless whisper of the prairie wind.
Or is it something more? Is something evil lurking outside in the dark, or is isolated, overwhelmed Lizzy simply unraveling?
These are the questions posed as this feminist Western quickly slides into psychological, then literal boogey-man horror, which is, ultimately, the film's undoing.
Further muddying the waters is first-time screenwriter Teresa Sutherland's decision to present the story through a series of flashbacks to various moments in Lizzy's prairie existence, including her failed pregnancy and the arrival of another couple—spoiled Emma (Julia Goldani Telles ) and inept husband Gideon (Dylan McTee)—who face their own disastrous pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the outcomes of these events are revealed so early that any potential suspense is undermined, and the momentum of what should be Lizzy's slow spiral into paranoia when left alone is repeatedly interrupted.
The film tantalizingly suggests potential influences on Lizzy's mental state: postpartum depression, religious zealotry inspired by a pamphlet titled “Demons of the Prairie” (which turns out to be little more than a list of demon names and titles), a romantic rivalry with Emma, gender inequality in the married relationships. Yet none of these are developed beyond brief scenes.
The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the real. Early scenes of Lizzy wordlessly performing chores against the backdrop of the Great Plains, as captured by cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, evoke as much about the burdens facing women during America's westward expansion as the cheap jump scares and spookhouse specters that clutter the films final scenes.