A review requested by Brennan, with thanks to supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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If I were to tell you the plot of Even the Wind Is Afraid - even if I were to go into considerable detail - I doubt you'd come away with the impression that there was anything very special about it. The 1968 Mexican production, one of the best-known films by writer-director Carlos Enrique Taboada, is a fairly standard-issue ghost story: at an elite girls' boarding school, one of the students, Claudia (Alicia Bonet), has been having nightmares involving a girl her own age dying by hanging, and soon she and her dormmates have stumbled across an unsavory history involving a tragic death just a few years ago. This tragedy has maybe resulted in the existence of an unquiet spirit, as the dead girl, Andrea (Pamela Susan Hall) is driven to torment those who mock her death by being alive in the place where she died. Maybe not. But we all know what kind of film we're watching.

Thus far, we have a unexceptionally straightforward tale of a by-the-books haunting. I have certainly given you none of the reasons that Even the Wind Is Afraid proves to have quite a remarkable magnetism to it, an unexpected approach to creating the dreamy, spooky atmosphere of all the best ghost stories. It's a film of odd stylistic flourishes, all the more effective in that they are presented without any comment or emphasis. I am sorely tempted to say what it reminds me of the most, by 1968 standards, are the gloriously overcolored horror films just starting to come out of Italy around the time, and not only because Even the Wind Is Afraid has its own dalliances with lush, oversaturated color. The setting has a distinctly European tenor to it, with a biting contemporary attitude adopted by all of its young characters; the boarding school setting lends it a sort of cosmopolitan elite vibe, with much of the film's plot focusing less on the incredibly forthcoming mystery as to what's up with that ghost, than on the interpersonal dynamics between the six students who form a sort of collective protagonist. Claudia is obviously the most "protagonisty" protagonist, not least because she also feels slightly detached from the rest of the group, with Bonet acting in a slightly ethereal, slightly old-fashioned way that ends up being a significant part of how the film operates stylistically.

But anyways, while I think it is possible to read a kind of Continental, Italianate attitude into much of the film, I was mostly thinking of the way it was shot when I said that. This is a really remarkable-looking film, with cinematographer Agustín Jiménez creating an impressively sharp contrast between the film's two primary modes. One of these contains all the bright, lushly-colored scenes that put me in mind of Italian horror in the first place. The other are the ugly patches of damp darkness  that come up in between all those colors. As the title suggests this, is a windy film; a rainy one, too, with plenty of scenes of the wind lashing through wet trees reflecting the merest scrap of light from some uncertain source. It very neatly fits my own biases of the "right" kind of ghost story weather, glum and musty and autumnal, the irony being that autumn in Mexico is when the dry season starts, and this is in fact late spring or early summer weather. Whatever the case, it provides a splendid atmosphere for a ghost story, not just the shiny darkness but also the insistent droning slash of wind on the soundtrack. It's the kind of sound that you can easily imagine putting the characters on edge, exactly as it's supposed to do, and coupled with the gloomy darkness the wind seems to bring in, it feels like the air itself has adopted a hostile attitude.

But look at me, skipping right over the rich bright counterpoint. For counterpoint is, of course, exactly what's going on; the heavy, horrific world of ghosts and death and human meanness jarring up shockingly against the energetic, poppy world of the character-oriented scenes. This large-scale contrast between bright colors and dark monochrome is much more central to the film's effect than either of those pieces individually, despite how impressive as the tight control of sharp shadows in the most overtly horrifying scenes might be. The whole film looks lovely, whether light or dark, but the back and forth between them creates an unresolved tension throughout the film, mostly in the form of the darker scenes jabbing their way into the film as violent little interjections of terror and violence into the more playful character story about prickly mean girls.

The discord generated by this back and forth is the film's strongest element, creating an uncanny and fraught feeling that defies being articulated - and this is itself part of the story, which is all about Claudia recognising imagery from her nightmares and realising how silly it sounds to say that out loud. The collision of nightmares into the waking world is the film, and baking that into the visual schema is a smart, brutally direct way of pounding that idea into the viewer.

For this to work so well, though, it can't just have one nifty visual trick, it also needs to have a strong baseline reality that feels like it can be under assault. And this is where the setting and characters come in: the six girls at the heart of the film are specific, detailed individuals, concerned with mundane conflicts and stakes even as death and restless ghosts start to get in the way of living their daily lives. The films isn't one of the all-time triumphs of ensemble acting, but it boasts an impressively strong cast of evenly-matched performances, creating a tangible sense of community and the kind of provisional, uncertain friendship that happens when people are thrown together in an enclosed environment and have to make do with each other. If the terrific manipulation of light and shadow represents the guts of Even the Wind Is Afraid, the distinct personalities of the girls, and our increasing sense of what is to be lost if something bad happens to one of them, is both the brains and heart. The whole thing feels awfully Hitchcockian - "what if Mario Bava directed Vertigo?" was the specific vibe I could never shake - but thankfully Taboad understood that this doesn't just mean skillfully executing a certain kind of storytelling mechanic, but basing that storytelling in crisply defined colorful personalities that we find easy to root for. And that's very much the case with this film, through all of its baroque genre touches, all the way to its quietly sweet and uplifting finale.