The Land Of Owls follows a pair of couples on their quest to fix their relationship troubles at a countryside retreat. In the beautiful seclusion of the Catskill Mountains, the couples are pushed beyond their boundaries by the retreat leader, Leah (Jasmin Walker), as they are forced to face up to the truth about their partnerships, and themselves. Surprisingly not a thriller or horror, The Land Of Owls is suspicious and dream-like at times, but attempts to remain true to its drama setting. Written and directed by Patrick Letterii, this couple’s drama delves into the vulnerability and harsh realities that come with romantic love.
The film uses its ethereal setting and mystical score to craft an almost illusionary and suspicious tension throughout. This tension parallels the anxieties and apprehensive actions of both couples. In the first act we are introduced to the couples together, as a unit. However, over the course of the surprisingly short 79 minute run time, we are exposed to each person in the couples individually, getting to know their wants, needs and flaws. As the characters are forced to confront their authentic selves in the wake of getting more (or nothing at all) from their relationships, we see the range of perspectives and feelings monogamous love can harbour.
What makes The Land Of Owls a refreshing viewing experience lays within the honesty and realness it portrays. Rather than centring on two heterosexual couples, Letterii instead presents a straight couple (Julia & Theo played by Emma Duncan & David Rysdahl) and a gay couple (Jean & Kord played by Ricardo Dávila & Ronald Peet). The two couples also interact with another person at the retreat, a staff member who was once seemingly part of a couple attending the retreat — the unnamed lesbian features throughout as we bear witness to her memories of her former lover Emma (Erica Lutz) and their break up-induced visit at the retreat. The multitude of perspectives presented stops The Land Of Owls falling victim to the easy and overdone tropes heteronormativity carries. Rather, Letterii does well to reflect relationships that feel real and relatable.
The film’s biggest flaw is that there simply is not enough of it. The Land Of Owls would have greatly benefited from further developing the mysterious nature of the retreat’s staff, as it sets this up pretty early on only to provide no follow through. Instead, the narrative focuses on giving us emotional resolution, as the couples meet their fates. The final act is where the drama loses its momentum, as although the emotional resolutions are satisfying, it still feels like there is at least 20 minutes missing in terms of story progression.
With some tweaks and a few more minutes on the run time, Letterii’s couple’s drama could have easily shifted into a psychological horror, as all the pieces to make a great thriller are there, entirely capable by the array of acting talent already carrying the intense and slow emotional scenes present throughout. Overall, The Land Of Owls is an expressive display of character development, with the final act failing to give it the radical context it so deserves in order to truly shine.
The Land of Owls is available on VOD from August 17th
by Kelsie Dickinson
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