The quiet, unsettling, and visually mesmerizing Canadian independent The Oxbow Cure might be one of the most thoughtful genre films in recent memory. Calling it a genre film might be dumbing it down a shade, but the elements of horror, suspense, drama, and romance are certainly on display. It’s a suspenseful and poignant drama dealing with loss and illness head on, and it does it all with nary a word of spoken dialogue. It’s wildly ambitious, intellectually engaging, and it gets the job done in about 79 minutes. There isn’t another movie like this that’s come out this year, this decade, or possibly will ever be seen again. It’s that unique.
Lena (captivatingly portrayed by Claudia Dey) has taken off to the Ontario woods for the winter and leaving her city life behind. It’s not immediately known why she’s leaving. Something is wrong. It’s tied not only to potential loss in her family, but to a disease that may soon leave her paralyzed. She struggles to move on in solitude, but it becomes slowly apparent that there’s something in the woods watching her. Instead of it finding her, she sets out to find out herself.
If it sounds vague and obtuse in the description, that’s because filmmakers Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis (who also co-wrote with Yonah’s brother Lev, the producer of the film’s haunting score) don’t waste a single moment, beat, breath, flashback, shot, or line of dialogue on anything frivolous. It takes roughly 20 minutes for a single phrase to be uttered other than background noise on a kitchen radio. Nothing is ever immediately apparent. Everything is designed to hypnotically suck the audience into Lena’s world completely. All that needs to be known is that she’s alone and unwell. The mystery is finding out what’s wrong, what she intends to do, and if she even knows what she’s doing in the first place.
The details come in small doses, but the emotions in play are a powder keg waiting to explode. Things are explained not necessarily out of order, but in the order that human memory often works during troubled times; making associations back to other moments forever burned onto one’s psyche. It’s a look at the blessing of solitude and the unintended poignancy of any sort of stimulus in a place devoid of anything outside one’s own thoughts. It’s a ghost story in search of the ghosts told through long, lingering, and gorgeously shot takes.
To say that it’s a genre film might be seen as a disservice, but giving away the secrets at the heart of The Oxbow Cure would be far worse. It’s experimental in form, but deeply humane, relatable, and prescient in terms of the story being told in glorious simplicity. It forebodingly leads to a conclusion and payoff that’s as potentially terrifying as it is deeply cathartic. It’s a powerful experience that patient viewers likely won’t forget after it ends. Lewis and Thomas previously made the well received Amy George a couple of years ago, and while that film was fine, this is the kind of art that makes people household names and will cause those who see it to remark upon it for years to come. The strength of a single pithy blurb couldn’t possibly do the film justice, but damn if I didn’t try to just do that.