“Wind Walkers” (2015): Wandering Tale of Terror in the Everglades Lacks Focus and Bite

If the rest of Wind Walkers kicked as much butt as the soundtrack, I could give this “8 Films to Die For” entry a strong recommendation. Unfortunately the power-chord rock and revisionist blues songs were more powerful and exciting to me than the movie’s characters, performances, or perplexing story. There are moments of promise, though.

Black Ops soldier Sean Kotz (Zane Holtz) returns home to Florida from active duty, having been recently released as a prisoner of war and then told that he was being given 4F status. His friend and fellow POW Natty Kingston (Rudy Youngblood) also returns but suddenly disappears, leaving Sean’s girlfriend Lexy Thoms  (Castille Landon),  Natty’s friends, his father Neelis (J. LaRose), mother Sue (Tsulan Cooper), and brother Jake (Kiowa Gordon) mystified as to his whereabouts. These men join together with some other male friends, some of whom are soldiers, for an annual hunting trip.

Sean Kotz (Zane Holtz) sees sights as a prisoner of war that might drive lesser men insane in Wind Walkers.

When the group arrives at the hunting shack where they planned to stay, things are already amiss, with parts of animal carcasses deliberately displayed in and around the shack. With nowhere else to go and a major storm headed their way, the men decide to proceed with their original plans. Something comes calling and when it does, group members are killed, injured, or disappear, and paranoia sets in among the group of friends.    

wind walkers shaman
A Native American man opens Wind Walkers with an explanation about the titular mysterious entities.

The film opens with an older Native American man introducing the concept of wind walkers, legendary spirits who some believe were meant to avenge the invasion of the white man and who still seek revenge on those who fight in lands where they do not belong. This is followed by a somewhat poetic bit of narration by the Sean Kotz character. I was interested in seeing if the rest of the dialogue would follow suit, but with perhaps two short exceptions, it doesn’t. Instead, most of the script involves characters either talking rather dolefully or shouting occasional obscenities for dramatic effect. Also, that opening sequence seems to promise some fresh concepts and social commentary, but instead we are treated to nothing most horror viewers haven’t already seen plenty of before, with homages to, or direct lifts from, other genre films, including John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. The idea of wind walkers punishing soldiers who fought in foreign lands is addressed somewhat, but civilians seem to be on the menu, as well, and the lead baddie seems to be trying to assemble an army of his own. It’s just one of many ideas that gets lost.

The first act is heavy on drama and introducing Wind Walker’s many characters. I’m all for character development but after about 30 minutes of getting to know these people, things felt bogged down and I still didn’t have anyone who I felt invested in. Sean Kotz is understandably reserved and scarred because of his experiences as a prisoner of war, but he is portrayed by Zane Holtz as being so emotionally distant that I found it hard to connect sympathetically with the character. Most other characters are either undemonstrative or emotionally detached, as well, which doesn’t help, and those who are less so include a heavily drinking buddy with a juvenile sense of humor and a hard ass who trusts no one. Castille Landon’s Lexy  gets involved in the events and evokes a bit more sympathy than the others, with J. LaRose’s Neelis also garnering some sympathy as a torn father. Several of these actors have impressive genre credentials so I suspect that they were directed to act in this lugubrious manner. Let me make it clear that the acting is not bad; everyone makes a go of it but something in the script, character development, or direction seems to hold things back.

wind walkers hug
Sean Kotz (Zane Holtz) and his girlfriend Lexi Thoms (Castile Landon) find themselves trying to avoid booby traps and gory deaths in the Florida Everglades.

Writer/director Russell Friedenberg shows some impressive direction and the film boasts interesting cinematography, but the whole affair is muddled down by a far-reaching story that hints at bigger things but gets too wrapped up in flashbacks and nods to different horror and science fiction films to clearly make its points. The film has a somber tone and some sense of dread but doesn’t fully deliver in that respect, either, nor does it deliver many shocks or scares, other than a few jump scares.

(Spoiler alert for this paragraph.)  Wind Walkers sets viewers up for an intriguing sounding horror concept but then delivers merely another variation on the zombie/cannibal virus run amok tale with a dash of vampirism thrown in for good measure. The characters hear in-and-out radio reports of a virus spreading elsewhere, with a reference to the World Health Organization and an announcement to report to the nearest military base if bitten, and those tropes are certainly fresh in the minds of horror movie viewers, as well.

Russell Friedenberg (right) wrote, directed, and acted in his latest film, Wind Walkers.

There is enough in Wind Walkers to warrant running through the Florida Everglades with Russell Friedenberg and his creations at least once, but I found myself as confused as the characters were, and I don’t think that was the director’s aim.

Wind Walkers  2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.