SXSW 2022: Winona Ryder Faces Love Woes and Mystery in Eli Hororwitz’s ‘The Cow’ (2022) – Movie Review

Boy, Winona Ryder characters sure have bad luck in love, don’t they? From Heathers to Bram Stoker’s Dracula to more modern movies like Star Trek (2009) and now Eli Horowitz’s The Cow; it feels like her characters are destined for passionate yet very messy relationships.

Synopsis for The Cow (2022):

Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath and her boyfriend find a mysterious younger couple already there — their getaway AirBnB rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup—but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

The synopsis may not be full of clues, but The Cow is not just a mystery. There are elements of thrillers, conspiracies, romance, and even some dark comedy. Even the arrival to the cabin is swimming in the tropes and vibes of classic horror. When you book an AirBnB for a romantic weekend and an anxious and angry 2o-something wearing a poncho indoors greets you, nothing good could come from staying…

Unfortunately for Kath (Winona Ryder) and Max (John Gallagher Jr), the angry 20-something, Al (Owen Teague), has a partner, Greta (Brianne Tju), who is strangely amicable to letting the two stay the night. The twin couples play a strange romantic game meant to help partners regain intimacy, which quickly weirds out Kath, leading to her tucking in early. By the time she wakes, Al is on the porch in shellshock, claiming Greta and Max, who had been flirtatious during the game the night before, have run away together with no notice or word. Kath is stunned herself and just heads home, ready to accept the single life. However, even though their relationship was on the rocks, something Kath freely admits, she needs closure and decides to investigate further.

Along the way, Kath meets Barlow (Dermot Mulroney), a burnt out former biotech entrepreneur who owns the cabin Kath and Max stayed at. With this meeting, a connection and chance to restart begins to forge between the two. Meanwhile, we learn more about the other couple and their exact relationship to the disappearance of Max…

Now, as The Cow is a mystery first, I don’t want to go into too many further plot details so as to not spoil the experience. That said, the film is full of twists and turns and continued to do so even when I thought there were no more twists left to be unveiled. At a certain point, it goes beyond being clever and turns into comedic camp.

It almost feels like imaginary fights on a playground. One kid says, “I’ve got a laser,”  and the other one says he has a laserproof forcefield. The first then says he has a forcefield piercing gizmo, and so on. At a certain point, the argument loses the original purpose and becomes something else entirely, often hilarious to an outsider. This movie seems to go through exactly that.

Tonal issues aside, I still enjoy seeing Winona Ryder in a leading role, and I admit she has strong chemistry with Dermot Mulroney. The mystery is certainly engaging enough up to a certain point, and even then, when it hits the third act with multiple game-changing reveals and reversals, it remains funny in a camp sense. While there will be a large number of people that this film won’t appeal to based on that description. But I think you should give The Cow (2022) a shot when it gets wider release!

About Chris Filipowicz

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