“𝓘𝓼 𝓽𝓱𝓪𝓽 𝔀𝓱𝓪𝓽 𝔀𝓮 𝓵𝓸𝓸𝓴 𝓵𝓲𝓴𝓮 𝓽𝓸 𝓽𝓱𝓮𝓶; 𝓪 𝓵𝓲𝓽𝓽𝓵𝓮 𝓯𝓵𝓲𝓬𝓴𝓮𝓻𝓲𝓷𝓰 𝓵𝓲𝓰𝓱𝓽 𝓲𝓷 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓶𝓲𝓭𝓭𝓵𝓮 𝓸𝓯 𝓷𝓸𝔀𝓱𝓮𝓻𝓮?”
– Lizzy, The Wind
The bleak and blustering narrative of The Wind takes place during the pioneer days in a wild western state of America. Lizzy and her husband Isaac live alone, in a simple cabin surrounded by nothing but wilderness, save for another little cabin in a direct line from their front door. Fresh-faced and uncertain, a younger couple, Emma and Gideon, soon arrive and make the twin cabin their own. Excited for companionship the two couples bond quickly, alone in the barren frontier, alone save the wind…
Emma Tammi’s 2018 directorial debut has been categorised as both a horror and a western film, but I would like to suggest that it specifically features folk horror tropes and delves into the more gothic elements of nature. This I will aim to prove in the following review [which is relatively spoiler-free, in terms of plot points].
As its name would suggest, folk horror takes inspiration from lore and traditions localised and archaic. It began, in film, with Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922. Click title to read more). The sub-genre places particular emphasis upon setting. Rural landscapes, commonly associated with tranquility and idyllic escape, are reassessed through a soft and dreamy, horror lens to reveal the deeply savage, ruthless side of nature.
The Wind begins with a quietly brutal scene. Sound proceeds vision – the whipping of the wind before we know to notice it. Darkness focuses to reveal two men, Isaac and Gideon, waiting in tension, outside a simple wooden structure, from which our protagonist emerges, weary. The camera zooms in on her as the wind dances through her long nightdress and caresses her hair. Clutching a stillborn child, virginal in blood-soaked white, Lizzy, immobile, immediately introduces the theme of mortality to the narrative. It is a harsh existence, and it is nature.
Stories of folk horror tend to unravel in places distant, in time, location, or both. Unavoidably, this creates isolation – a world remote from the modern reality of the viewer, and a world in which the character(s) too face seclusion. Whilst it is easy to romanticise a simple life, surrounded by nothing but nature, the memory of the visceral opening sequence hangs heavily over the following, disordered narrative.
“𝓣𝓱𝓲𝓼 𝓵𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓲𝓼 𝓯𝓾𝓷𝓷𝔂, 𝔂𝓸𝓾 𝓴𝓷𝓸𝔀? 𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝔀𝓲𝓷𝓭 𝓷𝓮𝓿𝓮𝓻 𝓼𝓽𝓸𝓹𝓼; 𝓲𝓽 𝓹𝓵𝓪𝔂𝓼 𝓽𝓻𝓲𝓬𝓴𝓼 𝔀𝓲𝓽𝓱 𝔂𝓸𝓾𝓻 𝓶𝓲𝓷𝓭.”
– Emma, The Wind
Lizzy, our protagonist, spends a lot of time entirely alone. There is a suffocating expanse of nothing in every direction, save that other little cottage in a direct line. To simply step outside and collect the drying laundry is a fight as the wind dances wildly with nothing to slow it down, looking for anything to disrupt in the barren landscape. There is an unyielding tension in the battle between (wo)man and nature.
As was proper for women in those days, Lizzy is relatively tied to the home. On the plains, though, when her husband ‘pops out’, it will be days of galloping before he returns. During this time, the once cosy cottage with its charming wooden walls begins to feel inadequate. Her remoteness is stifling, only heightened by the relentless, invasive wind. By insufficiently providing safety, the home begins to fail in its sole purpose, and to succeed instead as a gothic trope – the malignant castle, the haunted house, the building as a character, or as a metaphor for the mind.
Travelling west in the 1800s was no easy undertaking. On Emma and Gideon’s arrival, Lizzy and Isaac have been isolated for approaching a decade. We learn about the harsh years they’ve already spent on the prairie, and their new neighbours, in disjointed snapshots that echo the recollection of memory. Things begin to make sense as we learn more, through Lizzy… And yet, things begin to untether from reality the longer we spend with her in her world.
The younger couples’ arrival brings with it a hope that rapidly departs. In comparison to the uneasy Emma, Lizzy is presented as a hardy figure, well-adapted to the wilds of this new western world. She and her husband take the new-comers under their wing, but the friendship between the two women is as turbulent and changeable as the wind. I do still wonder why that second cabin stood empty and waiting…
Despite this fractiousness, Lizzy, and the others, are very much presented as civilised, and thus maintain a polite camaraderie. She is German, though her husband reminds her to speak exclusively in English now, reminding us that they must all be relatively “newly American,” and consequently unused to the vast, untamed land. Into the wilderness they bring their comforts – books and blankets, and parochial beliefs.
“𝓐𝓽 𝓵𝓮𝓷𝓰𝓽𝓱, 𝔀𝓸𝓻𝓷 𝓸𝓾𝓽 𝔀𝓲𝓽𝓱 𝓪𝓷𝔁𝓲𝓮𝓽𝔂, 𝓼𝓱𝓮 𝓭𝓮𝓽𝓮𝓻𝓶𝓲𝓷𝓮𝓭 𝓽𝓸 𝓬𝓪𝓵𝓵 𝓵𝓸𝓾𝓭𝓵𝔂 𝓯𝓸𝓻 𝓪𝓼𝓼𝓲𝓼𝓽𝓪𝓷𝓬𝓮 𝓯𝓻𝓸𝓶 𝓱𝓮𝓻 𝓬𝓪𝓼𝓮𝓶𝓮𝓷𝓽, 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝔀𝓪𝓼 𝓪𝓭𝓿𝓪𝓷𝓬𝓲𝓷𝓰 𝓽𝓸 𝓲𝓽, 𝔀𝓱𝓮𝓷, 𝔀𝓱𝓮𝓽𝓱𝓮𝓻 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓽𝓮𝓻𝓻𝓸𝓻 𝓸𝓯 𝓱𝓮𝓻 𝓶𝓲𝓷𝓭 𝓰𝓪𝓿𝓮 𝓱𝓮𝓻 𝓲𝓭𝓮𝓪𝓵 𝓼𝓸𝓾𝓷𝓭𝓼, 𝓸𝓻 𝓽𝓱𝓪𝓽 𝓻𝓮𝓪𝓵 𝓸𝓷𝓮𝓼 𝓭𝓲𝓭 𝓬𝓸𝓶𝓮, 𝓼𝓱𝓮 𝓽𝓱𝓸𝓾𝓰𝓱𝓽 𝓯𝓸𝓸𝓽𝓼𝓽𝓮𝓹𝓼 𝔀𝓮𝓻𝓮 𝓪𝓼𝓬𝓮𝓷𝓭𝓲𝓷𝓰…”
– Lizzy, The Wind / The Mysteries of Udolpho, Radcliffe
In one of many scenes highlighting the silently tempestuous nature of their relationship, together the two women read. Lizzy, in the strong, alpha position, reads aloud (the passage quoted above) to the poor, afflicted Emma. The book is none other than Ann Radcliffe’s then widely-popular and now classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). The novel, considered a masterpiece of a specifically female branch of early gothic literature, focuses upon the power of terror – that is the fear preceding or imagining an event, as opposed to the horror of it actually happening. Radcliffe’s protagonist is a progenitor of the damsel in distress of gothic romances, and the hardships that she endures are not only of the physical, natural world, but of the heavily psychological as well.
In such a sparse cinematic landscape, Lizzy’s lingering glance upon Emma’s bookcase, when going to check upon the younger woman in another scene, is a poignant and deliberate choice, as is the manner in which Lizzy later receives Emma’s trunk of books. The inclusion of Radcliffe’s gothic novel and caution with which Lizzy treats books reminds the viewer that The Wind is a narrative, and our narrator may not be all that reliable…
“𝓘𝓽’𝓼 𝓳𝓾𝓼𝓽 𝓪 𝓹𝓮𝓻𝓼𝓸𝓷, 𝓲𝓷 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓫𝓸𝓸𝓴.” | “𝓘’𝓶 𝓷𝓸𝓽 𝓪 𝓶𝓸𝓷𝓼𝓽𝓮𝓻.”
– Emma, The Wind
Both women are in possession of a religious pamphlet listing and entitled ‘The Demons of the Prairie’. I said I would keep this review largely spoiler-free so delving into this will be a little tricky, but what I will say is that the exploration of monsters was taken to a level that I felt was unnecessary and ultimately unsuccessful.
The quiet emptiness of Lizzy’s existence is plagued more so by fiction than reality. She suffers great hardships (that I will leave for you to experience with her) but remains steadfast. With the introduction of literature, however, Lizzy becomes an echo of Catherine Morland, the self-proclaimed heroine of Jane Austen’s posthumously published Northanger Abbey (1817). Actually Austen’s first completed novel, Northanger Abbey satirises the popularity of the gothic novel and importantly, its contemporary, female readers. It is no accident that both Austen and Tammi’s protagonists are reading the very same novel: The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Monsters take many forms in The Wind, from mental, to natural, to supernatural, but the setting should not be avoided as the greatest threat of all. In modern cinematic history a few masterpieces of folk horror have emerged that epitomise the pervasive power of quiet, creeping horror and emulate the gothic in mood (think The Witch, and Midsommar in its own psychedelically unsettling way).
The alluring gloomy period horror atmosphere of The Wind is executed perfectly. Caitlin Gerard performs as Lizzy with flawless conviction. The cinematography has a luxuriously bleak depth. BUT the third act goes wild in a way that forgets the wilderness, and that really doesn’t add to the already well-presented question as to the origin of the horror. Where this film lacks, for me, is in its inclusion of modern scares that were actually less frightening than a lingering shot of unending desolation would have been, given the importance of setting, and nature, to this film.
All that being said, though I did not fall madly in love with the narrative, I enjoyed The Wind, sincerely. And, I would be lying if I did not admit that, as I write this, an autumnal wind is howling ferociously outside and I may have just tiptoed to the spyhole in my front door at the sound of something and sight of nothing…
I have heard that the film is inspired by a silent 1928 film directed by Victor Sjöström, which is in turn an adaptation of Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 novel, both also named The Wind. Have you seen either film, or read the book? Any thoughts whatsoever – let’s get chatting in the comments below, or on Instagram!
This November, I am exploring how Nature is Gothic. Continue reading with a review of H. G. Wells’ botanical gothic short story in: The Ecstasy of Admiration: ‘The Flowering of the Strange Orchid’ Readalong, or get involved with the current read-along of ‘Rappuccini’s Daughter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne.