It’s not often you get to see an awesome genre blending film like THE WIND, which smoothly mixes feminism, westerns and horror into a chilling experience that lingers long after the credits roll. In order to get everyone in the mood for this little house on the scary prairie film, which comes out this Friday to select theatres and VOD, our crack team at RUE MORGUE sat down with the film’s star, Caitlin Gerard (INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY) and bombarded her with seven sinister questions.
She gives us the inside scoop on how she tapped into her character, Lizzy, who has to contend with harsh settler life, untrustworthy neighbors, packs of wolves, crushing loneliness and a supernatural wind that may or may not even exist.
There aren’t a lot of feminist horror western films out there. What’s it like being in a film that is such a unique genre?
Exciting. You know, you really feel like you’re at the forefront of something. I grew up with westerns, I love them deeply, and I’ve had the fond fortune of being in many horror movies, and so to combine a medium and a genre I love and another genre I have so much fun working in was a dream come true. And I only hope this means there are going to be more western horrors because I think the wild west is a scary landscape and there’s a lot to expand there.
This film is coming out not long after INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. Do you enjoy acting in horror films more than other genres?
I don’t know if it’s enjoying it more than others, I think it’s when you get to play an exciting character, you just get to have fun with it and I think shooting INSIDIOUS was very different from shooting THE WIND. You know, with INSIDIOUS, with Leigh Whannell, it’s a very playful kind of world you’re in. He’s such a comedian in his heart, in his person, and he’s such a kid, being funny, that it just felt like we were playing. It was such a fun, lively environment, and then this world was just so demanding, physically. It didn’t feel necessarily that I was in the same genre because the characters required different things from me. But I do love being in horrors. Let’s just say that if a good horror were to land on my desk tomorrow, I would be more than happy to sink my teeth into it. I think horror is a really fun genre, it’s one of those genres where the audience is truly more actively engaged. Being able to see horror in theatres is also something I feel is very special because there’s this collective tension that you’re all sharing together and you can’t escape. You’re all stuck in it, you can feel it in an audience when they’re holding their breath, and then you can feel it when there’s that chuckling release of like “Oh God, it’s over, thank God” and then the tension builds again. I don’t think there are many other genres that really force the audience to be so physically engaged with the experience, especially when you’re watching it in a movie theater.
What are some movies that inspired your performance in this role?
You know, I think a movie I thought a lot about at the time or that just kept coming to me was THE REVENANT. It was just similar in sort of texture and the character sort of battles with the environment, so I would say that was pretty inspiring. Then I think when I’m not filming something I’m constantly just devouring movies and works of great actors and directors, any field in film is so wonderful to take note on, but I think what I’m doing is I gravitate towards literature. I’m always reading a novel of some kind that is informing me about the story, so for this one I was reading some Willa Cather novels and only because I had one of her books on tape and literally when I was so exhausted at the end of everyday, I would go to sleep with one of her books being read to me. There was this crazy feeling of dreaming about this world or this landscape because it was coming into my ear. I think the nice thing about using another art form to compliment your work is that you’re not trying to imitate it, so it’s just sort of feeds it more as opposed to being aware of trying to take someone else’s performance.
Did you call upon any personal experiences to get into character?
I think every character has part of the human traits that are in our core that we could all relate to, so specifically for Lizzie in my contemporary world, the sensation of doubt that I have experienced in my own life. When I couldn’t trust my own gut or question my perceptions of situations and how that can drive you a little crazy. When you don’t know and when it’s not clear to you and you don’t have the answer. For me, when it came to Lizzy’s experience it was like “Oh, I get to explore the sensation of doubt” and the insecurity that it instills. I can really allow that trait to consume me, and I think that’s what makes her journey relatable. As far as like the fantastical aspects that she’s dealing with, at the core of it, there’s this question of her vanity and being able to know what is real and what is not and so I think that we all (probably not on such a grand scale) experience this in life. Whether it’s with a relationship or with even being at home, being like “Did I just hear something? I don’t know!” So I think that was the sort of quality in myself that I was able to tap into.
I heard there was no cell phone reception on set in New Mexico. Did you find this helpful to get into character?
I loved it. I generally keep my cell phone away from set just because when you go to your cell phone you’re immediately taken out of the experience, but to have an entire crew that could not have access to a cell phone ,really created a state of presence on everyone’s behalf. That was something that I think we haven’t experienced or we don’t get to experience a lot and today’s age. On any other set, what I’ve noticed, immediately everyone’s preparing, the crew, they’re setting up the lights, they’re setting up the art department, they’re getting everything ready and then, when the actors come in and they shoot it, their job is essentially done for the time and most of them go and retreat to their phone and just wait. But because we didn’t have that luxury everyone stayed engaged, so no one retreated, everyone just sort of stood at the side lines get and watch and engaged with the performance. I think it would be so nice to make this a rule, and I think some directors do try to do this, and I now understand why because when you have a crew that is watching and is invested on all aspects, it elevates the experience. It just keeps the drive and the focus for the same creative goal on everyone’s part.
Why do you think there aren’t more female-centric westerns?
I just think that now is the time for them. It actually makes me super excited because sometimes people are like “Oh, I did a western TV show that didn’t get picked up a couple years ago” I was like “Super cool…” and one of them was like “Westerns have been done” like it’s a dead genre. That really made me sad because I personally love westerns and when we did this one the thought came to my mind that every western is about the men who go on these excursions. You know, to fight Native Americans or to conquer new lands or get the bad guy and in most westerns we’ve always had that moment where they are leaving the homestead and the wife is there joyfully waving goodbye as he disappeared into the distance. Reading all these books about real women on the Prairie, it was so dark and fucked up for them. They were basically these lame ducks who had to defend this homestead against Native Americans, who are just trying to protect their territory, and wildlife and the weather and they had nothing but themselves. I just think that this is where this genre is going to come back and be revived because we get to explore all these narratives that we haven’t had a chance to look into yet. I just honestly really hope that this is going to give the opportunity and spark more people to have interest in these stories because we’ve just unearthed something. I don’t even know if the author, Teresa Sutherland, was truly aware of that aspect of this. She was really captivated by the concept of the winds that drove these women crazy and I think that she tapped into this really exciting new resource for this genre. I think it’s not that it’s never been done before, I just don’t think it was the right time and now is the right time
Without giving too much away, what was your favorite scene in the film?
Oh god. I think one of my favorite shots in the movie is when the preacher comes to the house, and she sends him to the Harper cabin just to go spend the night there. She watches him go away and his shadow just tracks the cabin. That shot wasn’t a planned shot and it was just the timing of the sunset at that moment that they were able to capture that image and to me that’s one of those really exciting movie magic moments. I just thought it was such a beautiful shot and that they were able to get it wasn’t part of the plan, it wasn’t part of the story. Those little moments are to me what is always the most exciting. But that’s not your question… my favorite scene, I think my favorite is with Julia Goldani Telles, when she’s under the bed, because it’s one of those moments that let me get to interact with other people but the juxtaposition of the performances between myself and Julia, where Julia playing Emma is a truly fragile creature and her suppleness and softness and almost child like nature is so jarring against Lizzy’s rigidity and her sternness and her relentless survival nature. She doesn’t have the patience or time to allow herself those feelings and so the contrast between the soft and the hard between the two of us was so fun to play with. I also really enjoyed the men just outside helplessly waiting, so that was probably one of the more fun moments to play, just because having a scene partner really allows you to be excited by their choices and let their choices inform you as opposed to you having to dictate everything on your own.
If this interview peaked your interest in IFC Midnight’s THE WIND, don’t forget to check out our exclusive interview with the film’s director, Emma Tammi!