Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Mythology, from all corners of the globe, offers some truly fantastic sources of inspiration for genre movies. Not just the swashbuckling Harryhausen Greek legend romps such Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans, but as an inspiration for deeply unsettling horror too. 
From modern Scandinavian efforts such as Thale and Trollhunter to J-Horror classics such as The Grudge and Ring's terrifying onryo, via Judeo-Christian tales such as the Dibbuk box of 2012's The Possession and the dark unnerving folktales of Celtic mythology at the heart of The Hallow, the influence of ancient mythology is still ever-present in horror.
As a comparatively young nation, America's folklore tends to come from the old countries of the early settlers. However, there are legends indigenous to the land — those of the Native American people. There have been some quite accomplished genre films based on Native American mythology (particularly the Windigo) and the latest is Russell Friedenberg's Wind Walkers.
Will this one blow you away? Or will you tell it to keep walking?
Read on…


Dir: Russell Friedenberg
Starring: Zane Holtz, Glen Powell, J. Larose, Kiowa Gordon, Phil Burke, Castille Landon, Russell Friedenberg, Tsulan Cooper, Rudy Youngblood, Christopher Kriesa

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East, traumatised soldier Kotz (Holtz) has been consigned to a desk job following an incident that has left him and his good friend Matty (Youngblood) deeply troubled. In fact, since their return to Florida, Matty has disappeared, a victim of his own insanity.
As Thanksgiving comes Kotz is reunited with familiar faces: close friends including Matty's father Neelis (Saw and Insidious' Larose), mother Sue (Cooper) and younger brother Jake (Gordon); joker Kelly (Burke); decent and reliable David, or 'Doc' (director Friedenberg); 'frenemy' Sonny (Powell); and fiancée Lexi (Landon). The group gather at Neelis's home for an annual traditional barbecue where they sit around the campfire and tell stories, however, events disturb Sue and she becomes hysterical, a sad occurrence attributed to the pressure she feels over her eldest son's disappearance.
The following day the group of men embark on a hunting trip deep into the Everglades. Here they discover that something or someone has ransacked their cabin. Settling in for the night the hunters again tell stories by the fire, one of which is an old Native American legend about the Wind Walkers, dangerous shape-shifting beasts that were summoned to dispatch the invading waves of white settlers that plundered the land. 
The following day tragedy strikes. Afterwards Kotz tries desperately to cope with the emotional burden of his horrific combat experiences, try to both mend his fragmented relationships and survive the events in the swamp. What is stalking the mangrove forests seeking fresh meat? Can the men overcome their own issues to face this threat? And what demons are awoken by war — both within the hearts of men and without?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Wind Walkers is a fascinating film with plenty of unique and compelling elements that ensure you can never predict what is to come. The story by director Friedenberg uses these seemingly disparate elements wonderfully, combining them to create its own enthralling mythos. With elements of a Black Hawk Down-style 'war is hell' story, crossed with the backwoods horror of Deliverance or Southern Comfort, by way of a supernatural monster movie (which in turn leads to a whole other very popular genre that I don't want to give away here, but feels fresh due to the way it is incorporated), this is a wonderfully crafted and imaginative tale. 
It would be easy to just throw a load of random horror tropes at the screen and see what sticks, but this is not the case. These elements feel like natural extensions to the storyline, the plot progresses exactly as it should and these separate strands are also used to deliver a particularly ballsy message. The implication that a demonic identity is unable to tell the difference between the plundering white men who first settled in the United States and Western soldiers deployed in the Middle East has some very hefty implications when examined a little more closely — just one of a number of extremely brave and intelligent points the film makes, all while never forgetting to entertain.
Of course, the story itself is only as good as the teller and here Friedenberg delivers. The film feels and looks excellent, with cinematographer Harrison Sanborn ensuring that the dank, dripping swampland is shot in a tremendously atmospheric manner. This down and dirty feel is helped no-end by an absolutely brilliant soundtrack of bluesy, country-influenced swaggering rock tracks that add an element of dynamism and darkness to key scenes. I don't often single out the soundtrack when discussing the movies I review here at The House, but this is one so good that it positively DEMANDS to be recognised. It really is superb.
It's not just the work that went into the way Wind Walkers looks and sounds that is worthy of praise. The cast are strong too. 
Holtz (who will be familiar to genre fans for his role as Richie in El Rey's From Dusk 'Til Dawn series) is a handsome lead who manages to keep his emotionally distant, shellshocked character interesting. This is no mean feat.
Powell shines as the love-to-hate-him Sonny. With a role in The Expendables 3 and several upcoming film and TV parts, he looks set to break out as a star very soon. After seeing his work here in Wind Walkers I can very much understand why.
Equally impressive is genre stalwart LaRose. Probably most familiar to horror fans for his work in the first two Insidious movies and playing Troy from Saw III, he has an impressive body of work to his name. Here LaRose gets to play a more sympathetic and human character than I'd seen before and his experience shows as he adds some serious gravitas to proceedings. He's fantastic.
Elsewhere Friedenberg demonstrates that he has talent in front of the camera too, while Twilight's Gordon adds capable support, as does livewire Burke. Meanwhile Apocalypto's Youngblood adds a chilling element to the story with his unhinged and bestial work. He's a real force of nature in the role and makes for a mesmerising screen monster. 
As for the ladies, both Landon and Cooper more than hold their own.
But once again I return to the writing: not just of the plot but in the characterisation. These actors are able to bring the characters to life because the characters are well-rounded and fleshed out enough to give them something to work with. There are a series of complex, believable relationships between the characters and these are where the heart of the story lies. By giving us characters to empathise and believe in, Friedenberg provides an emotional framework upon which to hang his more outlandish, imaginative and intelligent story points. This is where Wind Walkers best hits its mark, with some superb characters engrossed in an atmospheric and thought-provoking plot.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As is so often the case with a movie that is thick with atmosphere, Wind Walkers does sometimes suffer a little with pacing. It may seem strange to say that, especially with so many elements to juggle at once, but now and then some of the key moments lack a little dynamism. There are lengthy scenes in which the characters argue and suspect one another's motives which, unfortunately, do become a little repetitive at times. While I admire compelling and well-rounded character work in genre films, I do wonder if maybe some of these could have been excised or combined to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.
Also, while I enjoyed the eclectic mix of plot lines and genre tropes that made up the basic story for the movie, I do feel that maybe some of them could have been taken to the next level. Some story elements, especially the one hinted at during the closing moments of the film, could have given us a huge and really satisfying climax. Instead Friedenberg et al took their feet off the gas and stepped back, giving us a smaller, more personal ending. I'm sure this was done on purpose — so much of the writing was spot on and excellently crafted that I find it hard to believe there were any accidents in this story-telling process — I think a bigger finish could have hit all the much harder, especially as so much of the film up to that point had been personal and more low-key. Please don't interpret this as criticism of the somewhat open ending Friedenberg gives us — I love a story in which we are left to draw our own conclusions as the end credits start to roll, but I know some people do not find this sort of finale agreeable. If you are one of these, be prepared.
Finally, while the ambition of the film is to be admired, particularly with some of its action set-pieces and its gory visual effects, I do feel that the film was pushed right to very limit of its not inconsiderable budget. Perhaps at times it tried to overreach its means and might have been better off devoting its time to fewer but bigger set pieces. It's not to say that those that were in the movie were poor by any stretch, just that not all of them managed to reach the incredibly high-quality thrills and imagination of the script.

THE VERDICT: Wind Walkers is the sort of film that serious horror fans need to get behind — it shows real intelligence and imagination as it takes what could be familiar plot devices and combines them in such a way as to make everything feel fresh. The cast are great and the screen practically drips with swampy, bluesy atmosphere. With heart and brains, plus some great scares, this is one to catch.

Wind Walkers will be released in the UK on DVD and download on 25th September. In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page for more information.

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on Discovery Screen 1 on Friday 28th August. 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension here and The Nightmare here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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