Wind Walkers (2015)

First published by TheHorrorShow

“They invaded our home and brought us viruses that we could not survive. That took the spirit of the people. And now we are doing the same thing in other lands to other people. Our own young men have forgotten the stories. They fight, they kill, in places where they don’t belong. And when they come home, they will be the first to be struck down. The Wind Walkers will take them.”

Russell Friedenberg’s third feature (and first horror venture) Wind Walkers opens with these words being addressed direct to camera by a wizened Native American seated at a campfire, as though he were passing on ancient lore to the present filmgoer. He is also forging a mythic bridge between the White Man’s invasion of the Americas centuries earlier and the US’s more recent military adventurism abroad, with a further suggestion that such colonial actions are always met with the same curse.

Special Forces operative Sean Kotz (Zane Holtz) has just come back from a top secret mission in Afghanistan, while his comrade Matty Kingston (Rudy Youngblood) has gone AWOL ever since his own return. Though he is haunted by nightmarish visions of his experiences as a captive in the Middle East, though he is hearing voices everywhere, though he has been prescribed powerful anti-psychotic medication and has been deemed officially unfit for further service, Sean nonetheless joins a hunting party of Matt’s father Neelis (J. LaRose), brother Jake (Kiowa Gordon) and three other civilian friends (one played by Friedenberg) in the Florida Everglades, only to find that someone, or something, is already there, expertly tracking their every move.

As these men disappear one by one, and those left behind, joined by Sean’s ex-fiancée Lexi (Castille Landon), are set at odds with each other by a mounting sense of mutual mistrust and paranoid beleaguerment, Friedenberg expertly crafts a heady, impenetrable atmosphere that leaves viewers uncertain whether they are witnessing mental breakdown or wendigo breakout, PTSD meltdown or national, even global apocalypse. Like a collision of The Deer Hunter (1979) and Ravenous (1989), or a reimagining of Take Shelter (2011) with shamanic vampires, Wind Walkers deploys its supernatural tropes to conjure the deep scars that war carves into an individual’s and a community’s consciousness – while Sisters of your Sunshine Vapor‘s psych rock tracks on the soundtrack conjure The Doors and the up-river boys-with-guns insanity of Apocalypse Now (1979).

Hallucinating and hollow, Sean keeps seeing everywhere in America’s southern wetlands irrational analogues for the Afghani hellhole where, with Matty, he had earlier endured unspeakable horrors – and, accordingly, Wind Walkers comes with a disorienting, dissociative trippiness, like the cinematic equivalent of combat shock. By the time we have heard Sean’s voiceover declare, “I wanna believe that we’ll be okay, that the storm will blow over, that everything will be like I remembered when I get home, everyone will be waiting for us like nothing happened,” his words seem to comment not just on the savage events of the film, but more broadly on America’s vain desire to escape the damaging blowback from all manner of armed extra-territorial excursions in her recent past.

Whether you regard the monstrous viral threat faced by Sean as real or as part of the madness that he and Matty have brought right back home with them, it is a sign of an ill wind blowing domestically for a country endlessly at war. For Friedenberg’s impressive genre blend depicts nothing less than a sickened society eating itself.

Anton Bitel