The Cry of the Owl

The Cry of the Owl

On DVD: 
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Running Time: 
100 minutes

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) same-titled novel, The Cry of the Owl is a psychological quasi-thriller about Robert, a soon to be divorced man who deals with his depression (and occasional homicidal urges) by spying on Jenny, a young woman living in the woods near his new home.  Watching her happily perform everyday chores and activities eases his loneliness.  One night Jenny catches Robert as he hides behind a tree and after he apologizes, she invites him inside where they chat over coffee (do not try that at home, kids).  The fantasy broken, probably because of Jenny’s story about meeting a man she believed was Death incarnate when she was a child, Robert ceases his stalking but soon finds the tables turned when Jenny becomes fixated on him.  Believing meeting Robert was fate and a sign they were destined to be together, she follows him everywhere and, after breaking up with her boyfriend Greg, professes her love.  Greg, unsurprisingly, is less than thrilled with this turn of events and he confronts Robert, attacking him.  During the fight, Greg falls into the river, but Robert fishes him out and deposits him on the shore before leaving.  Unfortunately Greg goes missing and the police immediately zero in on Robert as a murder suspect.

The Cry of the Owl has the appropriate somber tone, gloomy atmosphere, and morally ambiguous characters for a solid psychological thriller, but it never gets there. Director Jamie Thraves’s pacing is stilted with a distinct lack of tension, and since the neurotic, morose, and grubby stalker is perhaps the sanest character, it’s hard to find someone to root for, relate to, or even like.  That is a serious problem in what is essentially a psychological character study.  The obligatory twists, while not shocking, mostly work, but I call shenanigans on one that has a ridiculous contrivance with a likelihood of about -100.  Most disappointing was the (lack of) climax.  The final twisty reveal is given away much too early, leading to an overly soft ending.

Paddy Considine does a remarkably good job as Robert, the depressed, socially awkward (to say the very least), twitchy, and lonely outcast who gets in way over his head.  Julia Stiles is okay as Jenny, though some of her line reading is awkward.  In the flashier role of Robert’s manipulative and sadistic ex, Nickie, Caroline Dhavernas adds needed color.

The video is adequate.  There’s a surprising amount of grain, but the contrast is good with terrific coloring and shading.  The audio, while decent overall with very clear dialog, doesn’t pop in surround and doesn’t feel lfull like Dolby 5.1 usually does.   There are no extras, which isn’t surprising given The Cry of the Owl was barely released in theaters.

I’m generally a fan of Patricia Highsmith’s novels and their adaptations, but The Cry of the Owl has never been my favorite (I didn’t like the 1987 French adaptation much, either).  It’s too muddled with no sympathetic characters and I think it’s simply painted with too broad a brush to really pull me in.  That said, this adaptation is much more a mediocre film than a bad one, so if you’re a fan of psychological drama and/or the actors, it’s worth a rental on a rainy afternoon.

Review by Michelle St. James