It brings me great joy to bear witness to the great career revival of Winona Ryder. Fresh off her impressive tenure on Stranger Things, Ryder strikes gold again in harrowing SXSW thriller, The Cow. Co-writer/director Eli Horowitz collaborates with screenwriter Matthew Derby to craft a twisty, shocking movie that will leave me thinking about it for days. The mystery angle may not be seamless, but I was fully invested in every second. The payoff here is the real success story, justifying its puzzle-box of withheld information.
Kath (Ryder) and her boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) are at something of a stagnant point in their relationship. A romantic getaway at a distant cabin in the woods may be the balm they need right now, especially as Kath is “all about that dappled life.” However, the place appears to be double-booked when they arrive. A young couple is already there: lanky and withdrawn Al (Owen Teague, Stephen King’s It, Montana Story), and friendly and passionate Greta (Brianne Tju, Amazon Prime’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, Hulu’s Light as a Feather). The two couples decide to spend the night together, pulling out a strange board game called Pillow Talkers that directly addresses intimacy and spousal problems.
From their initial meeting, there is a tinge of strangeness to the encounter. Al and Greta seem to know more than they first let on. Greta and Max have a flirtatious vibe that Kath catches onto and is decidedly not thrilled by, particularly after Greta licks Max’s arm to simulate an intense kiss. Kath’s worst suspicions are confirmed the next morning, when Al breaks the news to Kath: Greta and Max have run away together. Shocked by their sudden breakup and Max’s instant disappearance, Kath becomes obsessed with finding a reason for this flagrant betrayal.
Kath’s road to answers leads her to the owner of the cabin in the woods, Barlow (Dermot Mulroney, Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding). Together, the two work tirelessly to uncover the truth behind the bizarre turn of events. This is when The Cow hits its stride. Flashbacks buoy the story, and feature reveal after reveal to keep the viewer guessing. Unfolding the narrative in little pieces at a time allows for maximum shock value, and would no doubt add to the rewatch factor to see if these pieces fit in place as nicely as they appear. A couple of the beats are obvious, but there are plenty of great surprises to be had.
It only becomes apparent in the final few minutes of the movie as to the title’s relevance. Suffice to say, the title The Cow is earned tenfold, and fits like a glove. With one of the darkest, wildest final acts I have seen recently, The Cow is a genuinely great thriller with Winona Ryder in her element. I don’t know that I have a better way to recommend it; point blank, if you love Winona Ryder, there is no conceivable way you will not also love The Cow.
The Cow debuted at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.