Whispers from ‘The Wind’: Spiralling into Prairie Madness

Caitlin Gerard as Lizzie Macklin in The Wind (2018). Lizzie, a young blonde women in a brown dress of the 1800s frontier style, stands alone on the prairie, holding a double barrelled rifle up to her eye.
IFC Midnight

It’s late, and you are alone at home. Everything is dead silent, except for the wind, that has become your only company. For better or for worse. And you suddenly get scared, because you don’t like the little whispers that accompany the wind as  it hits your door and windows, begging you to let it in. It is one of humanity’s most basic fears: the fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of whether we are alone or if there is something else out there, waiting. In Emma Tammi’s The Wind (2018), the director explores this fear, following the story of her protagonist, Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard), a woman living in an isolated area in New Mexico with her husband, and in a non-chronological order, the audience witnesses her spiralling, through loss, jealousy, and paranoia, as Lizzie gives up to the prairie demons that haunt her lonely nights.

Tammi’s use of horror throughout the film goes hand in hand with the symptoms of the Prairie Madness, an affliction that became common (and was mostly depicted in literary records of the time) during the 19th century due to the settling in the prairies from migrants that arrived from cities, as families move to isolated areas with the idea of farming the vast land, but later faced the arduous conditions that came from living there. Lizzie’s paranoia and fear are shown from the beginning: we see her spiral and face her demons that the director presents to us in different instances. The audience is able to immerse themselves into Lizzie’s psyche, from very visual attacks to things left to the imagination, that we get to shape in order to manifest our own fears and ideas. 

The prairie madness, or cabin fever, was reported to cause depression, withdrawal, or violent behavior. Moreover, Lizzie is influenced by her surroundings, like her jealousy and suspicion from Emma (Julia Goldani Telles), the new neighbour who moves close by with her husband Gideon (Dylan McTee), and who soon starts to show symptoms of supernatural possession herself, especially during her pregnancy, thus making Lizzie suspect that there is something out there. The effectiveness of horror in the movie comes from our capacity for empathising with Lizzie and what she’s going through. It is giving in to the idea that there is something out there trying to get us, especially in our moments of solitude. By following an unreliable narrator like Lizzie, we are able to blend into the narrative without really caring if it is true or not. What matters is that Lizzie believes it is, so we do too.

The Wind (2018). A close up on a pair of hands holding a piece of white card with a black ink illustration of a monstrous creature with large blank eyes, and the caption "Demons of the prairie"
IFC Midnight

In 2020, the year of isolation and fear for the unknown, The Wind resonates deeply with the viewer. If the idea of prairie madness and cabin fever have flooded art, especially at its peak, is it possible that horror films will suffer the influence of the pandemic as well? With movies such as Contagion trending at the beginning of the quarantine, the creation of shows exploring life during it, and the rise of technology each time more and more persistent within the genre (Dark Web, Countdown, Unfriended…), it wouldn’t be a surprise that not only the fear of a pandemic – which is a very common trope in horror – but the psychological aftereffects of quarantine itself will soon start to show up in cinemas as well. 

It is perhaps too soon to see how this moment of time that has affected everyone will influence art and especially horror, and how directors and writers will try to convey this year and effectively use it in their films. Will they play with the fear of another pandemic and fall into an already overused trope, or explore the psychological aftermath that isolation had on us? Perhaps horror, that is exploring more and more psychological fear rather than only jump scares and gore, will see a big Renaissance, with new experimental artists trying to expand the genre. On the other hand, artists might avoid any mention of the pandemic in hopes of making people forget their troubles, the same way films and musicals did during WWII. Only time will really tell, but it is more than clear that this situation is already affecting cinema. The delayed releases and new filming protocols will eventually influence the creation of new stories for the silver screen. But for the moment, we still have films to enjoy until any of that potentially happens, like Emma Tammi’s The Wind, for example.

by Andrea de Lera

Andrea de Lera (she goes by her mother’s surname because it sounds better, sorry dad) is a graduate in English Studies and Communication from her hometown University of Oviedo (Spain) and spent a year at Leeds Uni. Someone told her once she was funny and she knew about movies and TV so she based her life around that. Her favorite movies include Singin’ In The RainSome Like It HotThe Rocky Horror Picture Show or When Harry Met Sally. Find her on Twitter and IG @andreadelera, on Letterboxd or her blog

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