The Cow offers a solid initial horror premise, but the mystery takes nonsensical routes that ultimately don’t work. Co-writer/director Eli Horowitz and co-writer Matthew Derby are a bit too on-the-nose for their own good. The Cow is the type of thriller that believes itself to be much smarter than it is, as the audience is always two steps ahead of the narrative’s reveals.
Eli Horowitz’s ‘The Cow’ is a mystery thriller
Kath (Winona Ryder) drives to a remote cabin in the redwoods along with her boyfriend. However, they immediately discover that a mysterious younger couple is already in the cabin. It turns out that the rental was double-booked, but it’s already dark outside and there isn’t any cell phone reception. As a result, they decide to share the cabin for just one night.
The Cow picks up the next morning, where Kath wakes up in bed alone. Her boyfriend simply vanished along with the young woman from the other couple. She becomes desperate to find out what happened and why her boyfriend would break up with her in this fashion. However, she would never guess the truth in her wildest dreams.
A film about time and adventure
The characters in The Cow constantly talk about adventure and taking chances in life. Kath and her boyfriend’s age gap plays into this, as they try to operate on the same level. Each time they hesitate to do something risky, such as play a romantic board game with the strangers they just met, they ask one another if it’s “too much adventure” for them. They both have something to prove to one another.
Horowitz tells the story in a non-linear fashion. The Cow jumps back and forth in time, gradually feeding more of the story to the audience. They provide context to their relationship and the sudden strange sequence of events. Kath follows a trail of clues, wanting to finally confront her now-ex boyfriend about his immature and cruel way of ending the relationship.
The Cow provides social commentary on both age and time. Multiple character dynamics and their interactions lend to these two topics. Time plays into each of the characters’ lives in varying ways, but it’s the obstacle itself that they all have in common. Time isn’t on their side and they’re all desperate for answers.
‘The Cow’ flatlines with a serious lack of thrills
Kath and her boyfriend arrive at the cabin at night when it’s already dark outside. As a result, Horowitz provides an eerie atmosphere, where the redwoods aren’t even visible. The cabin is the only visible space, creating a claustrophobic tone that traps the audience into the frame. Unfortunately, he doesn’t take advantage of this beyond the first act.
The Cow makes the mistake of focusing on the past in its non-linear storytelling. The cabin provides the most gripping element of the film, but once the narrative takes the characters out of the area, the film loses its initial tension. Horowitz gives too much away early on, making the story’s big revelation fairly obvious fairly quickly.
There’s a significantly better film buried here. The first act establishes an intriguing premise that truly could go anywhere. However, it opts for the thriller mystery elements, rather than the clear horror story that is much more compelling. The Cow begins to flatline when the first discovery is unveiled and never manages to recover.
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