SXSW Film Review: The Cow

Romance/thriller with Winona Ryder keeps you guessing ... & guessing

The Cow

What is The Cow? The absence of the titular farm animal is one in a stacking tower of mysteries within Eli Horowitz’s thriller (though improperly labeled as a horror movie), which had its world premiere at South by Southwest. Ascending the tower was a journey, one where I never knew what lay around the corner.

Mostly, The Cow is a film at odds with itself. In parts it’s a mumblecore rom-com following hydroponic plant store owner Kath (Winona Ryder) in the wake of her scruffy boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) deserting her for Greta (Brianne Tju), a fresh flighty twentysomething they meet when their cabin-in-the-woods rental turns out to be double-booked. Ryder is wide-eyed, delivering both the confusion and sharp, over-enunciated indifference of someone wounded deeper than they’d like to admit by a breakup.

In her fumblings to find an answer as to why Max ran off, she ends up contacting the cabin’s owner, the properly salt-and-peppered Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney) who shares his own struggles with Kath. See, he’s been suffering from a genetic nerve disease and only recently found a treatment by utilizing his bioengineering knowledge. She’s a little damaged from romantic woes, while he’s a little bruised from a health crisis and divorce: It’s the perfect match.

Yet slicing through the present tense are visions of the past – before the cabin, in the tumultuous throes of Kath and Max’s frayed edges – and in these the secondary identity of the film appears: an unraveling series of plot twists. Rather than clues sprinkled throughout, a sense of dread pervades everything, and works to throw the audience off balance. This is supported by the incredible cinematography by David Baldwin, whose lingering shots of beautiful, empty forest unsettle and captivate in equal measure. That the story rarely seems to match the visual language does a disservice to the dazzling anamorphic foliage spinning on-screen. But by the time you wonder whether the setting suits the scene, another twist spins you off-course and into a gossip-worthy mess of human tomfoolery.

By the end of The Cow, all is explained but there’s no satisfaction in getting answers. Like Kath driving away from the cabin, boyfriend gone and life upside down, I left the film wondering whether more lurked beneath the surface and if what lay beneath was worth finding.


The Cow

Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 15, 6:30pm, Rollins
Wednesday, March 16, 8:30pm, Stateside
Online: March 14, 9am-March 16, 9am

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW, SXSW 2022, SXSW Film 2022, The Cow

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