Florida, USA. Seven friends head off into the wilderness to begin their annual hunting trip. As a hurricane fast approaches, things begin go awry. Isolated and paranoid, the men begin to question their friendship and loyalties. Soon they are terrorised by an unseen beast. What is stalking them? Is it the desolation, their imaginations, or has a cannibalistic creature which can take the human form come to hunt them?
Whilst not quite accomplishing everything I think may have been intended, writer/director Russell Friedenberg’s first venture into genre territory, the metaphysical horror Wind Walkers, provides some genuine fodder for thought whilst inciting some solid shivers along the way.
Friedenberg’s first degree in history is blatantly manifest as he develops a biting commentary on the colonisation of other cultures that triggered such a serious blowback. The film calls attention to the fact that whilst Native Americans condoned invaders for importing incurable viruses their very own descendents are now sent overseas to fight, essentially echoing this once condemned notion.
The Wendigo myth is used to draw parallels to this concept and, whilst said lore is firmly rooted in sub-zero environments, the decision was made to shoot in the Florida Everglades with the team of hunters having to canoe to their destination. Although this plot device combined with a particularly sombre narrative style works in the film’s favour, helping to create a profound feeling of detachment, Friedenberg’s attempts to provoke speculation through misdirection become clumsily predictable and debase much of the intended tension and intrigue.
Most of the cast put in satisfying performances, particularly Zane Holtz as the seemingly astucious war-scathed Kotz. Given the protagonist’s predicament we are constantly left questioning what we are witnessing: Are these his hallucinations? Does he have a bad case of Wendigo psychosis? Is there really a virus that the soldiers have brought back or was this “thing” here long before? Despite Holtz’ standout role and skittish personality the final outcome sadly proves a little too inevitable. This aside, Glen Powell’s implications as Holtz’ internal adversary in the group is particularly compelling. As his character didn’t have the guts to head overseas we find him battling his own inferiority complex which triggers a persistent pissing contest between himself and Kotz, providing most of the meat in this character-driven plot.
Reaching the film’s final reel the tone takes a sudden one-eighty, abandoning the character-focused approach in favour of some straight up scares and this made for the most enjoyable twenty minutes, primarily down to some superlative special effects. Whilst it doesn’t get downright gruesome as such, the characters’ physical features, replete with flaming eyes, squirming skin and flesh suppurations are deftly executed and the results are explicitly unsettling.
Wind Walkers certainly had a lot going for it on paper and, whilst it does have its moments, it sadly shoots itself in the foot by becoming underhandedly heterogeneous and predictable and fails to take advantage of such a sui generis premise. Flaws aside, the film boasts some more than extensive historical research, provides some biting social commentary – something seldom seen in genre movies of late – and the director clearly has an eye for creating an ominous climate. I might have been left with a bitter taste in my mouth but Wind Walkers is still a respectable calling card and I’m eager to see where Friedenberg takes things from here.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)