WIND WALKERS (2015)
Written and directed by Russell Friedenberg
The hunters become the hunted – so goes the synopsis for many a genre piece. However, to make his first foray into horror territories leap out from the crowd, writer and director Friedenberg employs a Native American mythos involving curses, demons and the weather. Using (past and present) white colonialism as a metaphor for personal corruption and conflict, Wind Walkers combines cabin in the woods chillers with camp-side stories to mixed results.
If war films have taught is anything, it’s that readapting to society after service can be difficult. Here the focus is traumatised American marine Sean (Holtz), who tries to ease back into his normal life via the unusual medium of a hunting trip in the (beautifully shot) everglades. However, his group’s meager ambitions of their annual beer and bonding session are promptly disrupted when the youngest member Jake (Gordon) goes AWOL. Initially confused with madness, it soon becomes apparent that something more mystical is going on and their compatriot may no longer be himself. Coupled with his Native American mother’s warnings of a coming evil, a vague but ominous threat is conceived. What makes matters worse for the posse is this enemy can multiply, with further friends being enlisted to a platoon of foes via contagious bites. With the survivors holds up in their cabin, this set up lays the grounds for a slow burner that has more than a passing resemblance to Night of the Living Dead. Though note that crucially thankfully it never feels like it’s aping Romero’s seminal work, and retains its own identity.
Wind Walkers is a frustrating movie. Generally improving as it goes along, at times the third act does an excellent job of amplifying the tension. Cables are cleverly employed to make outside a no man’s land, and contrary to a lot of similar chillers a refreshingly high amount of its scares take place in broad daylight. In addition, the makeup is effective and the cinematography stays haunting from the folksy beginnings right up until the explosive ending. Friedenberg is also adept at building up an atmosphere or dread throughout, even if it is countered by an oddly chosen soundtrack of generic, guitar heavy, rock songs. Unfortunately the visual triumph is further undermined, with the film failing to do so much of the fundamental dramatic legwork in its first two thirds.
Specifically, a needlessly non-linear narrative confuses much of its opening, whilst repetitive and fairly lifeless dialogue sees all characters but Sean reduced to mere cannon fodder. This would be less of a problem if a significant portion of the script didn’t rely on paranoia regarding which members of the clan have and have not been possessed. Consequently a lot of the developments fall flat as audiences are unlikely to feel connected enough with them to be concerned by the outcome. The performances are uniformly competent, though the actors simply don’t have enough to work with to let them leave their mark. Furthermore, the intriguing premise of the infection being wider-spread outside the immediate area is not adequately explored, making the already rushed finale seem more underwhelming. Not necessarily one to avoid, as it does eventually entertain. Just don’t expect to be fully taken in by its spell.
Wind Walkers is available in the UK now on DVD and download