“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

Driving in a sedan, surrounded by the beauty of redwoods, The Cow first introduces us to a couple by the names Kath (Winona Ryder) and Max (John Gallagher Jr.). They appear to be your usual couple—escaping their doldrum lives to spend a weekend in a cabin surrounded by nature’s beauty. But as they interact more with each other, we see how different they truly are. Max is a bit more easy-going, or immature depending on how you view things. He’s definitely being written with the millennial stereotypes in mind. Kath, on the other hand, is more “mature,” or level-headed. They’re clearly a yin and yang, or opposites attract type, but it works for them, or so it seems. As The Cow progresses, we slowly learn that the large age gap between the two may be a bigger strain on their relationship than they let on.

Upon arriving at their destination Kath and Max see a car parked by the cabin, and a person steps onto the front steps dressed in a green rain poncho. Max greets Al (Owen Teague), the man in the poncho, and although Max’s mannerisms are agreeable, Al is not very welcoming. “We had a reservation,” Kath says. Double booked, maybe? The three quarrel about the booking, but the argument is broken up when Greta (Brianne Tju), also dressed in a green rain poncho, agrees that they should all stay together. Why let a double booking get in the way when you can share an Airbnb with two strangers robed in green rain ponchos? And yet, that’s not the weirdest part.

The night only gets stranger when the four play a 70s couples board game, which asks you questions about, or pertaining to, your significant other. But like Greta replies to Kath, her and Al are “not together—not in that capitalist, consumerist, cisnormative bullshit way.” It’s through the game that we find out that Max was Kath’s student, which Greta responds, “hot!” Greta wants more information as to how it went down—her imagination obviously circling the plot of an adult film. However, their story is bland and vanilla, which makes Greta sink back in her chair. She knows she can get something out of Max which makes her passionately make out with his, yes, elbow, when the next card says to do so. The next morning when Kath wakes up she finds Al crying in the woods. Greta and Max have run off together. As Kath tries to call Max, he no longer answers, or returns her texts. She’s been ghosted. But the more she adds up the red flags in her head, the more the sequence of events feels off.

If we know anything about the way Eli Horowitz writes, most notably on the Amazon show Homecoming, he tells his stories in pieces as the truth is slowly revealed. That’s how The Cow’s narrative is written, as pieces of the past is given to us briefly over time. There’s a lot that goes on within the first half, and while it does keep you interested for a while, it gets boring fast. With moments that come and go—sparking your interest to keep the plot of the film moderately moving—The Cow is either on par or slightly below the indie thriller films that have come out recently. I’m speaking of films like Dave Franco’s, The Rental. Even Dermot Mulroney, who plays the cabin owner, surprisingly hinders the movie even more as The Cow takes on a different tone once he enters the film. It’s almost as if it’s telling two different stories, but at the same time, telling the story it always intentionally wanted to tell. It’s a simple storyline that becomes a convoluted mess by the end.

There’s not much to say for the performances, because they were only okay. Ryder, who’s shown her talent throughout her career, brings a certain level of acting to Kath who is basically a very hollow character. I acknowledge that there’s not much she can do with the material, because it’s terribly bland. As for the other performances, including Mulroney, they’re all trying too hard to oomph up their characters, and it comes off extremely fake.

After watching The Cow, I’ll admit that I’m a little fatigued with movies like this (i.e. cabin thrillers). If you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. With a slightly different premise then your usual cabin thrillers, it begins to pick up in the last 20 minutes, but falls on its face at the end. I had genuinely high hopes for this one, but sadly, The Cow is utterly forgettable.

The Cow

Directed by: Eli Horowitz

Written by: Matthew Derby and Eli Horowitz

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

Rating: D

2 thoughts on “SXSW REVIEW: THE COW (2022)

  1. I think it had some major plot holes – but somehow I just liked it because Winona was just on her game here for me. But what you say here makes sense – and I get it completely! 🙂

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