“The Howling Wind” is a moody short that feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone, written like a one-act play, and shot like a Robert Eggers movie.
The Howling Wind opens sometime during or after the Kennedy administration. I say this because we see a plate with Kennedy’s face on it, which is the only real way to date the film. On a radio, we hear that there’s some kind of weird, dust storm/plague that is sweeping through the area. The radio says to “stay indoors.” And to “be wary of those around you, as they may be a danger to your well-being.”
A weathered, old guy that owns the radio hammers his front door shut like he’s fighting off zombies. He gets drunk. All in all, he’s nailing the social distancing until a suspicious younger fella enters through an unlocked cellar hatch.
Is the young fella infected from the weird, dust-storm/plague? Is he one of the looters that the radio warned about? Is the old man just a paranoid, religious kook, spouting off about the end of the world? Does he hate all outsiders?
The film is directed by Lorian Gish and Justin Knoepfel, with a good amount of old-timey class.
The black and white cinematography and the 4:3 aspect ratio (I’m eye-balling it) were the right choices in my estimation. But push that aside and the film still reminded me of The Lighthouse. It’s a period piece where two men are stuck in a house, they’re getting drunk, and what they are seeing may or may not be real.
Okay, it is real here, but there’s some suspicion. Also, the minimalist theatricality of this film feels similar to something like The Hateful Eight. The ending calls it to mind as well.
The cinematographic choices are logical and visual, especially a big speech about how the storm/plague was sent from God, shot in POV shots, with the subjects talking directly to the camera (like the first interaction with Lector in Silence of the Lambs or the scene where the baby disappears in The Witch.)
The acting is strong. The sound design is nuanced. There’s not much plot, but that doesn’t matter. There’s a whole lot of story that is coded within the visuals.
Having a storm/plague as a villainous force could come off as silly or convoluted, but in this case it just kind of works.
We’re told the right amount about it, which is basically nothing. This functions nicely because the storm/plague operates as a faceless, oppressive entity, rapping at the door, and threatening what is left of these poor men’s lives. It’s not scary, but it is spooky.
If I have any real complaints, they are minor. I guess I felt at certain moments that the old man’s dialogue was a bit too elevated for a character like that. There’s also a moment where he seems to scoff at religious folk on the radio, then it becomes clear that he is one, which confused me. Also, there’s a scuffle where the fight choreography (or the editing of it) falls flat.
But these are minor gripes.
For the most part, The Howling Wind really works. It’s an atmospheric thriller than has light psychological tinges and a strong sense of atmosphere. It’s a chilling vision of America that is unfortunately somewhat timely.