Starring Zane Holtz, Glen Powell, Phil Burke, Rudy Youngblood, Kiowa Gordon
Directed by Russell Friedenberg
A Native American shaman fills the screen for the opening of Russell Friedenberg’s Wind Walkers, addressing the audience directly as a campfire lights his face – embers floating in the wind.
He tells a brief tale of Colonial devastation, of the white man bringing viruses to tribes that couldn’t have hoped to survive them, and of the Wind Walkers – beings who ride the breeze, laying claim to those who continue to invade, fight, and kill in modern countries abroad.
And then we move to the Everglades, where Black Ops soldier Sean (Zane Holtz, currently rocking it up as Richie Gecko in TV’s “From Dusk Till Dawn”) has returned from combat somewhere abroad. He’s a quiet man – stern in appearance, wistful and reserved. There’s no doubt that he’s seen some shit.
Sean’s home for the annual hunting retreat with a bunch of his buddies, one of whom, Neelis (J. LaRose), is the father of Sean’s fellow soldier, Matty (Apocalypto‘s Rudy Youngblood), who has gone missing since his return from active duty.
Out in the woods, the group take up residence in a wooden cabin only to find themselves seemingly hunted by something amidst the trees. Or are they? Perhaps Sean has simply lost his mind – grown lethally aggressive through his experiences? Maybe it’s both? Yet, Matty’s mother can sense something in the air… the call of the Wind Walkers, their messenger her own missing son, and a strange virus appears to be spreading globally according to radio reports.
Just what the hell is going on?
That’s a question that you’re likely to be asking yourself quite regularly during the early stages of Wind Walkers, as the film is something of a narrative oddity. Friedenberg plays around with editing and sense of space to create heightened confusion in not only his characters, but the audience – but it isn’t always the kind of cinematic confusion that viewers can appreciate as a film playing with their perceptions… rather, it’s just plain head-scratching.
But there’s still plenty of more impressive work stored up the film’s sleeve, with a paranoia-laced scenario that not only feels like but also directly references John Carpenter’s claustrophobic classic The Thing, alongside hints of a global catastrophe under way even as the hunters become the hunted in a Predator-esque scenario. The cast are convincing in their panic and conflicted placement of trust, especially when they’re at each other’s throats – while the aforementioned Holtz breathes quiet life into a damaged veteran, a warrior designed for survival and for whom emotional posturing just isn’t the norm anymore.
Native American lore sits at the core, with strong references to the Wendigo myth chronicling a descent into cannibalism and the awakening of that particular curse, which turns man into insatiable flesh-eater following his first starvation-driven taste of human flesh. Tying this in as an allegorical warning against humanity’s never-ending desire to invade the lands of others – for reasons political, Colonial, or Capitalist – sees Wind Walkers wave a lofty message as it draws to a conclusion that provides no certainty whatsoever of safety for the remaining few. This is a sombre film, filled with death, dread, and loss of humanity; and it refuses to make its exit with a smile.
It’s just a pity that Friedenberg opted to bury his gem of an idea underneath a near-impenetrable muddle of a first act and leaden it with a glacial pace. The ambition certainly isn’t fulfilled, but have patience and pay attention to what Wind Walkers has to whisper and you should find enough to like by the time all is said and done.
Just don’t say you weren’t warned.