Be careful what you wish for — or who you stalk.
It’s a favourite, voyeuristic theme of the suspense genre, having been explored by directors ranging from Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet) to Brian DePalma (Body Double) and Christopher Nolan (Following).
And it’s a lesson underscored once again in The Cry of the Owl, an effective if uneven mood piece about a divorced, lonely aeronautical engineer named Robert (Paddy Considine) who spends his evenings watching a stranger (Julia Stiles) through the windows of her isolated rural house.
Think Robert is the creep here? Wait until you meet the other players in this adaptation of the 1962 novel by Patricia Highsmith, author of such cynical psychological thrillers as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
For starters, Jenny, the woman Robert is obsessing over, may be even more disturbed than he is. We know this because when she catches him spying on her, she doesn’t call the police, but invites him in.
Not long after, she’s appearing in his office parking lot and outside his home. Suddenly the peeping Tom is the one looking over his shoulder. Never mind he still has to contend with the gnawing demands of his ex-wife Nickie (Caroline Dhavernas), who seems to view their divorce as just another wound to inflict upon him. Or that Jenny’s ex-boyfriend Greg (James Gilbert) is prone to fits of jealousy and violence.
It spoils nothing to reveal there’s eventually a murder — or suspected murder — with Robert increasingly cornered from all sides.
To his credit, writer-director Jamie Thraves avoids the absurd twists and abrupt jolts audiences have come to expect from thrillers, instead maintaining a slow, deliberate burn. Will the measured pace irritate some? Probably. But for those who settle in with the movie’s methodical, chilly atmosphere, The Cry of the Owl is tense, involving and well-acted.
Considine, a British actor best known from such films as In America, makes for a convincingly detached hard-luck loner. And while Jenny ultimately registers as more brittle than enigmatic, the bond she forms with Robert proves both fascinating and believable.
Best of all is Dhavernas, who’s terrifically temperamental, needy, cruel and manipulative as his damaged former flame. She gives this somewhat sedate mystery — with its gravely imploding losers — a welcome dose of playful, ravishing vindictiveness.
(This film is rated 14A)