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"Cold Blows the Wind": an Indie Nightmare Twisting Itself to Madness

Body of evidence: Leyva and Vertuga want to bury a victim of their carelessness in "Cold Blows the Wind." / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

Body of evidence: Leyva and Vertuga want to bury a victim of their carelessness in "Cold Blows the Wind." / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

What do we talk about when we talk about indie movies? The industry and the theatrical market have co-opted the term as a portmanteau to cover any film that does not fall in the category of established moneymakers. Action tentpoles, sequels, and animated family films reign supreme. Everything else is “indie,” even if they come from a studio distributor based in the most expensive real estate in Hollywood, CA. Adult comedies, moderately budgeted dramas, foreign films, anything can be indie, as long as no spandex-clad superhero is in sight. 

The epitome of this bastardization of the term shines every week on AMC’s website, where mainstream fare gets the “Artisan Films” label. They apply it to adult dramas with comparatively smaller budgets, like Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders.” That tracks, but it equally adorns commercial juggernauts like George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and Kelsey Mann’s “Inside Out 2.” Oh, well, I guess Disney is too risqué for the multiplex now. We live in a world where even a blockbuster-ready Pixar sequel gets sold as an off-kilter “artisanal” selection.

'Till the body in the trunk tears us apart: Vertuga and Danell face their after-hours project in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

'Till the body in the trunk tears us apart: Vertuga and Danell face their after-hours project in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

We are guilty of this conflagration, too. The imperatives of communication crash against common sense. If we reserve the indie label for actual examples of the form, we risk confusing the public. So we fall in line. Film Fest darlings with big stars in leading roles, selling for millions at Sundance, and arriving at your screen with the Netflix logo before their credits roll in are “indie,” all right, even if they are indistinguishable from fully-founded studio productions. 

In this state of affairs, is there such a thing as an actual indie movie? The answer is a resounding “yes”. It is pretty refreshing when a bona fide independent production comes out of nowhere to remind us what “indie” is all about. Consider “Cold Blows The Wind,” a thriller with horror undertones - or shall we say overtones? - hitting the View on Demand market this week. VOD is the realm where indie films of our time aim to thrive. The bad news is that they don’t have the promotional muscle of a fully sponsored ad campaign to raise awareness in potential audiences. Your friendly movie critics come along to alert you of these alternatives to commercial cinema.

“Cold Blows the Wind” follows Dean (Danell Leyva) and Tasha (Victoria Vertuga), a good-looking married couple dealing with a gruesome business. A rushed title sequence tells us that Tasha’s birthday celebration ended in tears. While driving drunk, she ran over a pedestrian whose dead body now lies in the trunk of their car. Instead of dealing with the outcome by calling the authorities, they pack up the body and drive towards their parent’s country house. They have vague plans of disposing of the body by burying it in a nearby forest, where nobody will ever find it  - or so they wish.

Crimson lips: Jamie Bernadette is Briar, an unexpected guest bringing extra complications in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

Crimson lips: Jamie Bernadette is Briar, an unexpected guest bringing extra complications in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

So far, so noir. Dean and Tasha begin to come to terms with their impulsive - and criminal - actions when a knock on the door announces the arrival of more trouble. Briar (Jamie Bernadette) comes around in the wee small hours of the morning. The mysterious woman is desperate to escape the man who follows her. Do they let her in or not? The question draws a wedge between the couple. Things get even more complicated when Briar lets them know she saw them burying a body and alerts them that in those woods, “dead things tend to not stay dead.” Complications and panic ensue.

“Cold Blows the Wind” comes with all the trimmings of microcinema: few characters, fewer locations, and basic production values. You are almost sure the actors wear their clothes while shooting at a friend’s house or an Airbnb. These are not, per se, bad things. True-blue independent cinema lacks budgets that would allow for higher production values. It’s this way or no way at all.  

Girls' Spa Night: Vertuga and Bernadette bond over horrific shenanigans in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

Girls' Spa Night: Vertuga and Bernadette bond over horrific shenanigans in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

Some movies transcend these limitations by justifying them narratively. Footage in 16mm and video left behind by film students lost in the Maryland woods makes up the “The Blair Witch Project” (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999). “Paranormal Activity” (Oren Peli, 2007) shows home movies and surveillance tapes belonging to a doomed videographer - natch! - whose house is haunted by a vicious demon. “Cold Blows the Wind” cannot pull this trick. It shows you the objective “reality” of the movie in images that look unapologetically like video.

Audiences need to adjust their expectations regarding aesthetics and accept these conditions as elements of a particular style. They are limitations only if you set studio-fare as the standard by which all movies will be measured, and why would you do that?

Vertuga introduces Tasha, conveying darl screwball energy and seeping into malevolence as the genre elements creep in and take over the plot.

If “Cold Blows the Wind” stumbles, it is not for lack of money. The script by writer-director Eric Williford engulfs genre elements with abandon, bringing too many twists to the party. Once we settle for a murderous marital drama about crime and retribution, Briar brings a fantasy element - what do you mean when you say dead things tend not to stay dead? - . There is more to come, including winks to a classic monster. Also, a callback to the repetitive nature of trauma, replicating itself ad infinitum - as seen in horror movies as dissimilar as “Funny Games” (Michael Haneke, 1997-2007) and “Speak No Evil” (Christian Tafdrup, 2022) - an English-speaking remake of this Danish shocker is set for release later in the year.

Live through this: Vertuga is the Queen of the Night in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

Live through this: Vertuga is the Queen of the Night in "Cold Blows the Wind" / Photo courtesy of Lion Heart Distribution.

It creates a chaotic resolution, but “Cold Blows the Wind” sticks the landing thanks to Vertuga. She treats the movie as a showcase. She introduces Tasha, conveying dark screwball energy and seeping into malevolence as the genre elements creep in and take over the plot. Danell Leyva, as beleaguered husband Dean, plays some appropriate desperate notes as a bumbling schemer with a dead body in his hands. He makes for a good foil in scenes that work as stormy marriage interludes. Alas, Dean cannot compete with the fireworks reserved for Tasha. Jamie Bernadette’s Briar faces the same luck. She has even less screen time to make an impression with a deliberately opaque character. Briar is written to recede in the background.

Kudos to Williford for working well with his actors. The script may have benefited from some streamlining, but his direction and camerawork place “Cold Blows the Wind” above and beyond many other indie DIY cinematic exercises. Here's hoping we see more from this team.   

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