Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, The Cry of the Owl stars Paddy Considine as Robert, who has moved to a small town after having a breakdown living in the city. This breakdown has cost him his marriage and as he deals with messy divorce proceedings with his shrew of a soon to be ex, he begins hanging outside the house of Jenny (Julia Stiles), taking solace in her happiness… by stalking her.
Eventually, Jenny finds out he’s doing this and instead of calling the cops like any sane person would, she invites him in and she falls for him, calling it off with her boyfriend Greg Wyncoop (James Gilbert). Greg does not take kindly to this, and after the two fight near a river, he disappears. Naturally, Robert becomes the prime suspect, even though he pleads total innocence. Worst of all, Jenny begins to be showing signs that she is not exactly all there herself, and thus the tale of psychological thrills and chills begins to weave like a wicker basket.
The Cry of the Owl starts off slowly, and I mean slooooowly. As it sets up Robert and Jenny, both them as characters and their messed up version of a romance, it moves at a snail's pace with nothing of any real value happening. Now, if the characters had been interesting, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but that isn’t the case. Robert’s whole motivation for hiding outside of Jenny’s house is completely implausible. I mean, it’s one thing if you secretly love her or you’re an amateur taxidermist looking to add to your collection, but because she looks happy? Her house is in the middle of nowhere, and every time Robert goes to pay her a visit he has to walk through a ton of wooded area to get there. This is a laborious process, and I’m sure there are happy couples nearby in his neighborhood he could get to much easier. That instantly had me shaking my head.
Jenny is supposed to be a bit off-kilter, so it adds some intrigue into the story when Greg goes missing, but their idea of “off-kilter” matches my idea of annoying. Simply put, she has no reason for any guy to want her. Sure, she cooks and she seems nice, but when not doing that, she’s asking random questions about death and other thinly veiled attempts at foreshadowing. Not only that, she dumps Greg to be with Robert… who was stalking her. She invites him in, there’s an awkward moment, and for her it’s love at first sight. Right.
So the first 40 or so minutes builds it up: Robert stalks Jenny, Jenny invites him in, Jenny dumps Greg and wants Robert, she starts stalking him, some crying, some awkward conversations, and then finally it begins to get interesting. I’ll admit it, the last 50 or so minutes had my attention. I’m a sucker for crime movies (unless it’s starring cops) and mysteries. And I’ll give it to the filmmakers; I thought I figured out what was going on in The Cry of the Owl but I was wrong and they went another way. A completely ridiculous way, but I found that to be fun. It’s hard to explain what it is exactly without spoiling it, so I won’t (as much as I want to). Let’s just say that about one hour and 15 minutes in, you’ll go “WHAT?” in either a good way or a “that makes no sense” way.
The acting is pretty sub-standard and it feels like the filmmakers just painted faces on pieces of wood and told them to interact with each other. No one has any chemistry; Considine and Stiles don’t work together, Considine and the best friend character (who annoyed the hell out of me, by the way) don’t work together, Stiles and Gilbert have no chemistry; it made the whole thing hard to watch and hard to get into when no one was able to connect with anyone. I was wondering where Stiles went, but now I kind of wish I hadn’t found out; this feels like she just did it for the cash. I have no idea who Paddy Considine is (cool name though), but I don’t think he should be lead role in anything for the foreseeable future; he does have the chops to play secondary though. Everyone else is stock really, and outside of Robert, Jenny, Greg, and Robert’s ex Nickie Grace (Caroline Dhavernas, who goes way over the top trying to get you to hate her), none of the other characters matter.
The Cry of the Owl is a by the numbers mystery, and suffers heavily from the lack of chemistry, uninteresting characters, and an almost insufferable opening 40 minutes. Still, it does pick up towards the end, and manages to be entertaining and interesting… but by that point, it’s too little too late. Do yourself a favor and rent a better Patricia Highsmith adaptation (The Talented Mr. Ripley) instead.