[Overlook Film Festival Review] THE COW
THE COW l Courtesy Vertical Entertainment
Medical anomalies or even simply differing from the perceived norm can often drive people to seek out any possible solution for themselves or their loved ones. Sometimes the high cost drives people to crime and other times when the solution goes beyond a fiscal price, then the crimes turn to kidnapping, torture, or worse. Eli Horowitz presents at The Overlook Film Festival THE COW, an engaging thriller with some standout performances from Winona Ryder as Kath and her unexpected rival played by Brianne Tju. In the film, Ryder plays a woman in a relationship with a man much younger than her. She is constantly self-conscious about the age difference and being perceived as weaker than her youthful partner, but how far will she go to prevent middle age from denying her love? After a romantic getaway goes horribly wrong, Kath must now search for her missing boyfriend and in doing so the film exposes plenty of secrets, all of which lead to a costly sacrifice.

Starting with a fun and beautiful drive through the redwoods, Kath and Max (John Gallagher Jr) journey towards a cabin they booked online. However, after hours on the road, they find the more youthful Greta (Tju) and Al (Owen Teague) already occupying the vacation getaway. At first, the younger couple wants nothing to do with the tired travelers, but Greta shows mercy on them. Wanting to show being in your 30s doesn’t mean you can’t hang with the cool kids; Max gravitates toward Greta, and they hit it off. The other half of the couples are not as amused with the situation as Al remains surly about the whole experience, and Kath becomes the outsider because of the large age gap. Greta finds it interesting Max pursued his teacher and tries to overromanticize the relationship. But now in the company of Generation Z, Max finds a stronger connection with Greta and Al instead of his middle-aged girlfriend.

After a long day and an obnoxious night, Kath goes to bed early only to wake the next morning to an empty cabin. Assuming everyone just went for a nature walk, she ventures into the woods where she stumbles upon a forlorn Al. Apparently, during their pleasant morning stroll, Greta and Max decided to hook up and run off together. Distraught with the absolutely unexpected and shattering break-up, Kath retreats back home and hides within herself. She tries to recover by reassuring herself the relationship was doomed, but her friend plants a gnawing seed in her mind and now Kath becomes an amateur sleuth trying to track down Greta. As the movie progresses from one act to the next, some viewers will need to get over their desire for genre definition as THE COW wanders into quite a few different categories. Mystery, thriller, romance, and – of course – horror all make an appearance. You will even notice a significant change from one act to the next, but the genres blend well together and all lead us to the final reveal.

At the start of the second act, the movie switches in tone as Kath follows a brooding and ominous trail of secrets. Some of the information is only known to the audience, so we will frequently have the upper hand as we watch Kath follow her clues. However, the best part of the intrigue comes from deciphering what pieces of information come from lies. Horowitz creates two intercutting plots as the director plays with timelines and we see the rising events of how the couple got to the cabin and the aftermath of the disappearance. As we learn more about past (and present) events, our perception of the story and characters will change. Not finding info online, Kath turns to the owner of the cabin Ryan Barlow (Dermot Mulroney) for details about Greta, but he has a whole pile of secrets of his own. He’s actually some big-to-do biotech tycoon turned recluse, but despite his weird backstory, he becomes a worthy partner in the ongoing Greta investigation. Ryder and Mulroney make an enjoyable enough pair on the big screen, but some of the dialogue is quite groan-worthy. However, this could just be how middle-aged people flirt. I don’t know, but I’ll find out soon enough.

The ending creates a bit of a gestalt moment for the audience and might even elicit a collective “Ohhh” from those watching, but the film provides more than an interesting closer as the journey to the final moments provides interesting visuals and sounds. The disconcerting soundscape paired with the director repeatedly drawing our attention through close-ups of a displaced object in the woods furthers the ominous tone established from the beginning. Fans of Winona Ryder (both old and new) will appreciate the actress’s return to the center of the big screen. Honestly, I would have liked to have seen Horowitz do more with the fear of aging and the societal pressures placed on the middle-aged (especially women), but overall, the dark atmosphere of the movie and the stellar performances make THE COW a good mystery.

Vertical Entertainment will be releasing THE COW in theaters this July!

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