Independent Indies – The Wintress
Growing up in Iowa and later in Wisconsin, it was difficult to find films that weren’t decidedly mainstream. As such, the idea of making a film seemed even more out of reach. Thus I eventually moved to Minneapolis, content to watch and critique films at my leisure. Thankfully Bill Elverman, writer and director of The Wintress, took a different path then I did.
While there are numerous films about small Midwestern life, very few ever seem to truly reflect the unique cultural and environmental dichotomy that makes up Wisconsin. But unlike other fare, The Wintress manages to capture the look and feel of Wisconsin. The noticeable film grain adds not only atmosphere to the picture, but gives the air surrounding the characters a thick humidity eerily familiar to anyone who has lived through a Wisconsin winter.
But the look of the film isn’t the only great quality of The Wintress. Like the best short stories, The Wintress creates a lived in world that can be easily entered by the viewer. Clocking in at 26 minutes, The Wintress deftly manages to create fully fleshed out characters that are easily to identify with, and then manages to end just when the rug has been pulled out from under you. The ending, not so much a cliffhanger but a punch to the gut, is bound to linger in audience’s minds long after the credits have rolled.
The star of The Wintress is clearly Stephanie Johnson, who plays Elizabeth “Liz” Weston, the long suffering wife of her abusive husband Sam (Heath Sweatman). Liz is struggling to maintain her grip on reality while simultaneously formulating a plan to escape from Sam for good. It is a great role and Stephanie clearly sinks her teeth into it with glee, relishing in the unique twist of a woman who snaps not because her abuser wants to stop, but rather because she can’t cope when he finally begins to reform and stops terrorizing her.
For his part, Heath gamely commits to a part that would seem impossible to cast anywhere else but a state home to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and clubs dedicated to Polar Bearing; but he nonetheless makes being stripped to your underwear and tied to a tree during a Wisconsin winter even more unbearable then it sounds.
Writer/director Bill Elverman rounds out the trio with a solid performance as Mike Richter, Sam’s longtime best friend and the unwitting mediator in this out of control marital spat. Mike is by far the most restrained part, yet Bill still manages to add needed pathos to both the story and the character through his actions and some subtle dialog. Mike is not so much the anchor of The Wintress but the fulcrum, the only stable figure in the bunch whose presence is which the entire story revolves around, and perhaps the only one truly deserving of some empathy.
The Wintress is a film that is bound to both entertain viewers with its horror laced dramatic tone as well as tease them with its short running time. But rather then linger too long, The Wintress ends at just the right moment, which should leave audiences eagerly anticipating Elverman’s next project.
The Wintress will have its World Premiere on Friday, October 10th as part of the Flyway Film Festival’s Wisconsin/Minnesota Showcase. For ticket information and a complete film schedule, visit the Flyway Film Festival website for complete details.
The Wintress teaser trailer