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The Forgotten Landscapes of 'Wind River' Are Chillingly Real...

Picture of Cassam Looch
Film Editor
Updated: 8 September 2017
Culture Trip takes a look at the exquisite setting of new thriller Wind River, explaining how and why it played such a significant role in making this one of the best films of the summer.

What is it like to be surrounded by stunning scenery and crisp, clean air, but, at the same time, know that murder is among the highest causes of death in your sleepy town? For the inhabitants of Wind River – in both the Taylor Sheridan feature film and the real-life reservation in Wyoming – these are the kind of conflicts they must confront each day.

Wind River, located in the upper reaches of the Bighorn River in Wyoming, America, acted as the setting, as well as the namesake, for Sheridan’s second directorial project. The name derives from the river that runs through this sparse and beautiful landscape, which spans approximately 2.2 million acres. Wind River also happens to be one of the poorest places in the country. The film, which stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, was predominately shot in Wyoming and in Utah, where the lifestyle is not for the faint-hearted.

Jeremy Renner in Wind River
Jeremy Renner in Wind River | © STX International

Due to the winters here being unforgiving, many of the inhabitants used to migrate to get away from the harsh, snowy landscape, but now locals tend to endure it – and the film presents Wind River as a bleak environment to live and grow up in.

Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner | © STX International

Sheridan actually lived with his family in West Wyoming for a time, making this area very familiar to him. With this film, he wanted to portray the perception of people who live in this region and on its reservations, and what better way to do that to use the real Wind River as a backdrop? Sheridan had friends here who he visited – he listened to their stories and helped craft a chilling narrative that stood in juxtaposition with the beauty of the area itself.

© STX International

The Wind River Indian Reservation is known for being a place where murder and homicide rank higher as causes of death than critical illness. The few changes in this desolate reserve over the years have seemed to cripple the small town a lot more severely that other similar sized locations. However, cultural traditions and ceremonies once banned by the government are now celebrated and encouraged – including rituals such as the sweat lodge, the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance.

© STX International

Filming on location helped the cast and crew of Wind River visualise exactly what is in the script. Due to such harsh conditions, there were very limited timings in which scenes could be shot. This meant everything had to be carried out in a concise and efficient manner in order to make the most of the light available. Weather conditions such as this in the heartland of North America cannot be controlled – the Wind River team had to make their peace with thefog and limited lighting, and had to think on their feet when working with it.

Elizabeth Olsen
Elizabeth Olsen | © STX International

Having grown up in Wyoming, Sheridan had witnessed this lifestyle first-hand, and this permeates the stylistic choices in Wind River. For example, Sheridan shoots the action from both high and low perspectives, capturing the dynamic angles of the location with a real focus on realism and authenticity. This isn’t your big-budget superhero film but, rather, a dark, personal look into one of the world’s forgotten landscapes, which is so clearly struggling to stay in the light. The end result is a gripping thriller that draws the audience in and highlights the intensity of living in a unique place such as Wind River.

Wind River is in UK cinemas now.