I cannot say for sure whether or not the makers of the neo-noir short, The Howling Wind, intended for their film to be a commentary on the current COVID-19 pandemic. For better or worse, that’s how it’s going to be unavoidably perceived.
As a radio announcer warns at the start of the film, “Be wary of those around you. They may be a danger to your well-being.” Sound familiar?
Let’s remove the (perhaps coincidental) timeliness of the premise and take the film at face value. The radio announcer (Mark Silverman) informs us that a fierce, apocalyptic windstorm is battering Essex County. The announcer also instructs his listeners to stay indoors and, most importantly, not to get caught in the winds. It appears that the winds are infecting people with some sort of pathogen that turns them mad. “Judgment is upon us,” he quotes a local pastor as saying. “We have met the End of Days.”
“…the winds are infecting people with some sort of pathogen that turns them mad.”
Arnold Cunningham (Anthony Arkin), a gruff but congenial fellow living alone in the countryside, discovers a young man seeking refuge in his cellar, having gained entry through its open door. Initially defensive at having encountered a stranger in such close proximity, Arnold eventually deduces that the young man, Jacob Thompson (Nicky Boulos), poses no threat and invites the man upstairs to clean himself up and weather the storm alongside him. But will Arnold’s assessment of Jacob and his offering up of his home as a safe zone, prove to be a fatal mistake?
The aspect of the film that the viewer will notice right off the bat is the sumptuous black-and-white photography. Cinematographer Harrison Kraft’s smooth images and creative use of shadows and contrast is extraordinary, imbuing the film with elements of noir, western, and thriller. One gorgeous shot, in particular, shows Arnold peering through window slats as he spies Jacob behaving most peculiarly. The framing of the slats on Arnold’s face recalls any number of 1940’s film noirs.
The casting of Arkin and Boulos is perfect, with each actor providing a formidable foil to the other: Arkin’s bearish hermetic aura played against Boulos’s boyish good looks and smaller frame. Watch as both actors match each other during the more confrontational second half of the film. You could be forgiven for thinking, due to Arkin’s scruffy face and intense stare, that the late Orson Welles had risen from the dead to appear in the film.
Now, let’s throw the COVID-19 parallels back into the mix, and the movie adopts a much more urgent subtext. The Howling Wind not-so-subtly toys with the sometimes rabid fear that COVID-19 (or any unknown silent threat) immediately instills in the public consciousness. Particularly the terror with which a possible encounter with another person (who may or may not be infected) imparts in such circumstances.
These strange behaviors have become part of our lives in recent months. This makes a film such as The Howling Wind especially prescient and scary. The atmosphere, sound design, exemplary acting from Arkin and Boulos, and especially the transcendent photography, mix together flawlessly to produce a beautiful doomsday art film.