The Movie Waffler First Look Review - THE LAND OF OWLS | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - THE LAND OF OWLS

the land of owls review
Hoping to repair their relationships, two New York couples visit a Catskills retreat.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Patrick Letterii

Starring: Ricardo Dávila, Blake DeLong, Emma Duncan, Emma Lahti, Ronald Peet, David Rysdahl, Jasmin Walker

the land of owls poster

My heart was in my mouth at the start of writer/director Patrick Letterii’s indie drama The Land of Owls. In the year’s most suspenseful scene we see a young woman chopping an onion. Chopping an onion with a bluntish yet large and heavy looking vegetable knife. Her chopping board is slippery and in order to steady the potentially rogue allium she is PUSHING IT DOWN WITH TWO FINGERS THE TIPS OF WHICH WOULD BE DIRECTLY IN THE CLUMSY SWATHE OF THE VEGETABLE KNIFE IF THE ONION WERE TO SLIP (for more advice on how to safely chop an onion: It wasn’t just the precarious situation which put the willies up me, but the soupy, lachrymose score, which communicated a poignant longing; the same sort of weepy regret one may undergo during a life without fingertips. It’s alright though as *spoiler* no one’s digits actually get diced. However, the tearful character is clearly upset about something or other (unless it’s just the onion fumes getting to her).

the land of owls review

Phew! This narrative restlessness, a sense of disorientation, continues throughout the first act or so of The Land of Owls. A consummate professional, I try to not read anything about films before I review them, and as such on spec I had no idea that Letterii’s film was a modest indie drama about relationships. As a pair of couples arrive at a woodland sanctuary which has this weird, culty ambiance (they have to wear pyjama-like uniforms), I was getting major Midsommar vibes...

Yet as the film progressed, and it became clear that the two couples (one gay, one straight) had come to the dedicated retreat for therapy to save their respective relationships, I was hoping for some sort of major gender bending freakout, with the designations gay and straight losing all meaning in the bacchanalia of the forest’s nightscape, and everyone shagging (a sort of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for millennials). Disappointingly though, it turns out that that The Land of Owls is simply another one of those films about middle class twentysomethings talking about their frankly pedestrian relationships for an hour or so.

the land of owls review

But not even that, because a fatal narrative flaw is that we don’t really know much about our couples when they rock up, we are positioned to accept that they are good looking professionals with slightly bohemian bents (one is a laptop music maker, etc). Why should we care? Other people’s relationship woes - they’re up there with hearing about other people’s dreams. We watch as the gang undergo couples therapy: ‘Who ARE you? No, who are YOU?’, an earth mother counsellor hectors the retreatants (in a manner that couldn’t help but remind me of Lester Beck in The Day Today). One wonders why these people would put their destinies in the hands of hippy strangers. I mean, they’re not married couples with the fate of their children’s psychologies resting upon their unity. After all, they could only have been together for a matter of years - perhaps it's time to kiss a new frog?

The disjunct is illustrated by a quite astonishing scene involving the heterosexual couple abandoning a sex act in the privacy of their quarters. He goes south, south with his mouth, and we witness the act in a compromising, static mid-shot. She gets going, and just as she’s revving to a climax, he (for some reason) pulls away. Presumably, the idea is that this refreshingly intimate scene demonstrates their incompatibility in bed (he ‘rushes’ things) - but surely this isn’t the first sexual disappointment, or at least the first time the female fraction has spoken up about old quick draw McGraw down there. It took a badgering at a luxury retreat to get to the point where you can talk about basic bedroom manners with your partner? Yikes. You’ve got a lot of luxury retreats ahead of you, girl.

the land of owls review

Turns out that the have-a-go chef from the film’s prologue has been languishing at the retreat since a would-be palliative visit ended with her troubled relationship finally going belly up. At one point, to emphasise the emotional resonance of her half-scoffed compatriot, she gets her acoustic guitar out and starts finger picking some dirge. The vanity of these people. Where’s an errant vegetable knife when you need one?

The Land of Owls is on US VOD from August 17th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews