The Movie Waffler SXSW 2022 Review - THE COW | The Movie Waffler

SXSW 2022 Review - THE COW

the cow review
Believing her boyfriend left her, a woman uncovers sinister goings on.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eli Horowitz

Starring: Winona Ryder, Dermot Mulroney, John Gallagher Jr., Owen Teague, Brianne Tju

The most effective horror movie protagonists are often those that reflect the audience's fears and insecurities. As most horror movies are aimed at a teen audience, such fears and insecurities tend to be less relatable to older viewers. Getting killed by a masked maniac before you've just lost your virginity might connect with a 16-year-old, but it's not so relatable if you're 46.

Casting a 50-year-old Winona Ryder as his "final girl," first time director Eli Horowitz exploits an insecurity specific to older viewers, the dread of aging into irrelevance, and in the case of women, becoming invisible.

Ruder plays Kath, a mild-mannered, some might say uptight botanist who has been in a half-assed relationship with a younger man, Max (John Gallagher Jr.), for roughly a year. Kath is struggling to keep up with the energy of Max, who is in his thirties yet displays the immaturity of a teenager, and finds herself agreeing to a weekend away at a cabin in Northern California to spice up their relationship.

When Kath and Max arrive at the cabin they discover it's been double booked. Already present is a twentysomething couple, the rude Al (Owen Teague) and the seductive Greta (Brianne Tju). The former doesn't seem too keen on sharing the cabin, but his girlfriend twists his arm. When a party game takes a sexual turn, with Greta licking Max's elbow, Kath excuses herself and heads to bed. The following morning she wakes to find a disconsolate Al all alone, Max and Greta having disappeared together.

the cow review

Kath doesn't seem particularly upset at losing Max, as the relationship was headed south. But what really annoys her is that he was stolen by a younger woman. Dogged by her insecurities, Kath sets about tracking down Greta, though she's unsure of what she'll do when she confronts her.

As Kath carries out her investigation, aided by Barlow (Dermot Mulroney), the handsome and sensitive owner of the rental property, Horowitz delivers flashbacks that fill in details Kath isn't privy too. It seems there's more to Max's disappearance than initially meets the eye.

Horowitz probably relies a little too much on his film's non-linear structure, which makes the plot seem a lot more clever than it really is. Essentially what The Cow boils down to is an old-fashioned mad scientist b-movie that's been given a mumblecore makeover. But that structure does indeed keep us invested in an otherwise simplistic plot. Once we've been made privy to the full details of what's afoot here, the film doesn't really know where to go next, resulting in an underwhelming and sloppy climax.

It's as a vehicle for Ryder that the film has most value. She may still be in the top 1% of the planet's most beautiful people, but Ryder convincingly portrays a successful woman who has clearly used her brains to make it in life, but is nevertheless terrified of losing her youthful looks. Like so many middle-aged people who assume the December role in a May to December relationship, Ryder's Kath finds that dating a younger person only serves to make them aware of their mortality rather than inspiring some rejuvenation. Whoever said "you're only as young as the man/woman you feel" clearly never felt the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep up with a younger lover.

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