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The Cry of the Owl (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

The Cry of the Owl

The Cry of the Owl


Starring Paddy Considine, Julia Stiles, Caroline Dhavernas, James Gilbert, Gord Rand, Karl Pruner, Phillip MacKenzie, R.D. Reid, Constantine Alex Karzis, Marcia Laskowski, Krista Bridges and Charlotte Sullivan.

Screenplay by Jamie Thraves.

Directed by Jamie Thraves.

Distributed by Myriad Pictures.  100 minutes.  Rated R.

The Cry of the Owl doesn’t quite make sense when you think of it critically.  The rug is pulled out from under the story just a bit too often to quite buy into it.

However, if you give in to its odd noir vibe and anything-goes script, the story can weave an oddly compelling sense of dread and desperation before sort of falling apart at the end.  You just have to ignore the periodic whispers from your brain that the developments are not quite making narrative sense.

The main character is Robert Forrester – played by the always-reliable British actor Paddy Considine (In America, Red Riding: 1980) with all hints of his native accident assiduously removed, though his American accent feels a little non-descript.  Robert is a corporate drone who is going through an exceedingly nasty divorce with his beautiful but savagely vindictive wife Nickie (played by Caroline Dhavernas, formerly of the terrific short-lived series Wonderfalls).

Robert is completely awkward socially.  He’s one of those guys who will say absolutely the most inappropriate thing in most situations.  He has been fighting depression with meds and apparently had some sort of mental break in the not too distant past – though it is one that he refuses to discuss in any depth.

Also, he has taken to spending nights in the middle of a secluded patch of woods and compulsively watching a young woman who lives in a big old house there.

Now, right off the bat, this is a really creepy thing for your film’s hero.  It’s not like the guy happened to look out his window and caught a glimpse of someone and became obsessed – such as in the wonderful and similarly plotted dark 1988 French psychological drama Monsieur Hire.  (At about the same time there was a French version of the novel Cry of the Owl was based on filmed, but I never saw it, so can’t really comment on whether that earlier version was better.)

No, this guy is driving out into the country, leaving his car with the hood up, clambering through the woods and crouching in the darkness around a secluded home.

It’s not even sexual.  He watches Jenny (played by Julia Stiles) doing stuff like cooking, chatting with her boyfriend and washing the dishes.  Also, she seems to be one of those very rare people who lounges around her own home fully dressed with bulky sweaters, flannel shirts and jeans.  Even when we see her eventually going to bed, she is wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  There is nothing overly frilly about this woman – other than her home.

Forrester claims – and is apparently sincere on this point – that he is not interested in anything erotic from his spying.  He just feels a compulsion to see a bit of domestic tranquility.  Still, all sorts of questions pop up.  How did he discover this woman in the middle of nowhere?  Why her?  What is it that drives him to risk getting caught when there must be dozens of similar homes around?

When Jenny finally catches him, he tries to explain, but it seems like a rationalization – or at least just a small part of the truth.

However, it turns out that Jenny appears to be at least as disturbed as him in her own way.  First she invites him into her home, which hardly seems a rational thing for a woman in a secluded house to do when she confronts a peeping tom.  Then she starts showing up and his work and home and other places he is.  Quickly she has dumped her boyfriend and taken up with the disturbed older man – with an apparent loyalty and conviction that her ex, friends, the audience of the movie and even Robert finds rather creepy.  Then, when the ex-boyfriend disappears after a fight with Robert, he is suddenly under suspicion for the guy’s apparent death.

The Cry of the Owl is based on a 1962 novel (of the same name) by respected mystery novelist Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the books that became such intriguing films as Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The Cry of the Owl is certainly not on the level of either of those cinematic masterpieces.  The labyrinthine plot gets more and more tangled to the point that it seems a little convoluted.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through the film there is a plot twist that is so out of the blue that it is truly shocking (though not exactly 100% believable.)  The fact that the film pulls off this bombshell so early throws everything off track.  This should have been the end of the movie.  All of the plot twists that follow in its path – and there are several – feel rather anti-climactic after that supremely disturbing scene.

By the time The Cry of the Owl limps to its much more traditional ending – and a rather ambiguous one at that – the audience is feeling a little jerked around.  It is possible to be too complicated for your own good.  This is a trap that this small, moody thriller falls into.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: June 4, 2010.

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