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The Cry, a taut four-part thriller on SundanceTV, has a number of things going for it, but perhaps none more important than letting the audience think it knows where it’s going.
That’s a trick that Mr. Robot has used rather regularly since it began — giving viewers enough evidence to think they’re clever and then darting sideways and upending the theory. It’s a shell game that mysteries — at least the good ones — pull off with elan, but The Cry, which Sundance is giving a wider release to after tucking it first into the Sundance Now streaming service, has some deep psychological veins to mine that call into question motives and guilt. It uses those to make the series emotionally gripping as well as narratively tricky.
AIR DATE Oct 23, 2019
Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who) plays Joanna Lindsay, a school teacher in Glasgow who ends up falling for Alistair Robertson (Ewen Leslie, Top of the Lake), who is working as an image consultant/spin doctor for a political party in Scotland (he’s very, very good at it).
Alistair’s charms mask a colder, more calculating side, and it’s not long before Joanna, convinced he’s not married, gets caught about to have sex with him at his house — a moment discovered by Alistair’s teenage daughter, Chloe (Markella Kavenagh), and his wife, Alexandra (Asher Keddie).
Alexandra then snatches up Chloe and returns to Australia, her native country (and Alistair’s as well). The Cry is told in multiple flashbacks, some easier to follow than others, but this bit is pretty straightforward and sets up the present, taking place a handful of years later, when Alistair and Joanna have a new baby, Noah, but are unmarried. The baby cries incessantly, as they are sometimes wont to do, and that’s where the title of the series comes from, as well as the book of the same name by Helen FitzGerald (the series was created and written by Jacquelin Perske).
Coleman is primarily tasked, when we first meet her, with being very much overwhelmed — she’s operating on roughly two hours of sleep a night while Alistair sleeps with ear plugs, one of the early hints that he’s a manipulative, controlling ass, not surprising given his professional specialty. Joanna is ill-equipped to be a mother because Noah’s incessant crying and her inability to stop it, much less endure it, becomes clear immediately.
It’s here where The Cry sets up its premise — Alistair, still crushed that his ex-wife snatched up Chloe and moved away, decides its time to use a legal team to force Alexandra, who he’s painting as an unfit mother, to give Chloe back to him (never mind that Joanna, who barely looks like she’s out of college, probably isn’t ready to be step-mom to a mouthy 14-year-old girl).
A harrowing, crying-filled flight from Scotland to Australia, on which most of the surrounding passengers are annoyed with Joanna and Noah, gives The Cry its edge, as viewers learn that not long after arriving in Australia, Noah vanishes, causing both Joanna and Alistair to emotionally implode and leading to a police investigation for the missing baby.
The Cry never feels overtly tricky, even though director Glendyn Ivin plays around with flashbacks at a ferocious pace. The series deftly sets up jealous ex-wife Alexandra as a suspect, while never letting viewers escape the notion that Joanna, who has become essentially non-functional, might have been involved. Meanwhile, Alistair, so adept at going into spin mode, pushes for the local detectives to do a better job and control the media that hounds their lives on a daily basis.
Big twists start immediately in the second episode and continue through to the last minutes of the miniseries, a lot of them plot-driven but also psychological — games within games for all who play.
Not everything works. Ivin’s decision to have, mixed in with the flashbacks and flash-forwards, a dream-like motif (actually a couple of them) seems unnecessary. We already know, given Coleman’s shell-shocked performance, that Joanna is not thinking right and not reacting as the media, police and neighbors would like her to. When Joanna finds an old phone and taps into the sewer of social media to see what’s being said about her and her family, Ivin literally puts people in the same room with her, typing on their phones or laptops, saying out loud what they are posting, which you’ll either think is an effective conceit or over the top.
The Cry works best in the bigger reveals — including one so simple and clever that it’s a bona fide shock and several others that are also effective but perhaps a little too convenient when you really think about it.
But none of that stops the forward momentum that The Cry acquires after the first episode. Leslie is superb at making Alistair both a predictable alpha husband and then much more than that, with deft detours that cast doubt on what we’ve seen his character do previously.
If you’re looking for something that’s emotionally devastating and also riveting as a psychological mystery, you’ll be happy that Sundance gave The Cry a chance for you to find it.
Cast: Jenna Coleman, Ewen Leslie, Asher Keddie, Stella Gonet, Sophie Kennedy, Markella Kavenagh, Alex Dimitriades, Shareena Clanton, Shauna Macdonald
Created and written by: Jacquelin Perske
Based on the novel by: Helen FitzGerald
Directed by: Glendyn Ivin
Premieres: Wednesday, 11 p.m. ET/PT (SundanceTV)
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