‘In search of the mystic’ is a key phrase from writer/director Patrick Letterii’s absorbing adult drama. While this story of two couples attempting to patch up relationships at a Catskills retreat gets into the granular detail, the opening and closing scenes make it clear that we’re looking beyond self-help here, in search of something rather more profound. But thrill-seekers need not apply here; Letterii’s film is serious, and never flirts with the kind of feel-good clichés which often cripple an indie drama. The lack of character names suggests an actor’s improvisation, but The Land of Owls is sharp enough to suggest a steady hand behind the wheel.
Emma Duncan and David Rhysdal play a couple heading for a break; she’s a musician who struggles with the weight of being an artist, and her anxiety has transferred to his partner, weakening his sense of self. Their sexual relationship is frigid, and their day-to-day interaction increasingly problematic. They arrive at a secluded mountain retreat, and are greeted by their therapist (Jasmin Walker) who watches them undress and slip into the uniform of the guests. At the same time, another couple (Ricardo Davila and Ronald Peet) arrive with a different set of issues to resolve; outwardly, the two get along, but undeclared problems cause the mask of closeness to slip. By the end of the film, secrets are spoken and understanding created, but is it enough to save these relationships?
The Land of Owls spares us too much pretention or metaphor; even the title is firmly referenced in the final scenes. Instead, it allows the talented cast to realise some familiar, perhaps uncomfortably familiar characters. It is cringe-worthy at times to eavesdrop on the sessions, particularly when it becomes clear that stripping away layers of artifice may not be enough to heal the wounds created.
Although those who work at the retreat are important characters in their own right, Letterii’s film doesn’t go for Altmanesque anti-authority pot-shots at their expense. The Land of Owls a well-shot, superbly acted little indie that invites us to understand what couples therapy is, without ignoring what the potential dangers of such a process might be This is a thoughtful, often engrossing film, and worth recommending to cineastes who still fly the flag for intelligent, sensitive fare.
US streaming begins today, August 17 2021 on Apple TV, iTunes & Amazon.
Thanks to First Run Features for early access to this film.