The Wolf Hour (2019)
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Watts gives and outstanding performance, but there is little she can do to resolve terrible story writing from writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin.
The first full hour of the movie portrays June as paranoid, depressed, and in obvious self imposed isolation. Suspense build as the viewer assumes that the backstory for June must include some terrible event that shaped her life and made her so fearful. The setting of a bad part of the Bronx during a summer heat wave where she can see crime outside her apartment window reinforced the suspense. There are even radio news snippets that the audience overhears of a serial murderer that is targeting long haired brunettes (you guessed it, Watts' character matches that description). There is also the recurring ringing (and annoying) of her intercom at random hours of the night to make you think somebody is stalking her.
We find out that the horrifying event that has so traumatized June was the impact her book had on her family, and her fear of leaving her apartment has nothing to do with her personal safety, but her fear that she will do more damage to the world at large. We also discover that her ordeal and self imposed isolation has lasted 4 years.
The writer takes 2 full acts of suspense, scene setting, and character building relying on the incredible talents of Watt to keep the viewer engaged to spectacularly let them down with a petty problem that has only a paper thin relationship to the established paranoia.
The third act continues the disappointment as miraculously, a few minor interactions with people (a grocery store delivery guy, her sister, a male prostitute, and a phone call to her publisher) beings a rapid transformation in the character the defies belief. There isn't a clear "thing" that triggers June's transformation. There is an odd conversation with the male prostitute that could have been intended by the writer as the turning point, but it comes off as a non-important moment.
Regardless, the character resolves her writers block and suspends a great deal of her paranoia to allow her to dust of her typewriter and finish her book that was 4 years in the making - all in 1 month.
The final scenes have June leaving her apartment and watching the sunrise while surrounded by the destruction of the nights riots.
This is a really basic story that follows a common hero quest motif (aka The Hero Journey) that most of us learn in grade school English. The only thing that holds the first 2 acts together is Watts' performance and the contrived suspense. The plot device around her paranoia falls flat, and the 3rd act wraps up so rapidly that the lead character just comes off as petty.
This film should never have gotten past the proof readers, it is junk. The idea is great, laden with plenty of opportunity and Naomi Watts definitely has it in her talents to give the storytelling exactly what it needs.
I mean, come on, a sweaty lecherous police officer denied his I'll gotten gains by a handheld radio, in the 70's? They might well have had those radios back then but that is a lazy way to resolve a narrative dead end. And this buzzer that keeps ringing with no one on the other end? Just get it repaired for the love of god. And why place so much emphasis on this serial killer if you're going to abandon it completely?
All in all, it should be a lot better, it's still more enjoyable than say, Hugo or The Zero Theorem - but it ranks alongside those for sheer opaqueness.
Her emotional credibility is essential to the film's success; even though Leigh's personal demons seem real, the facts of her family history sometimes feel false, a crazy quilt of disconnected details. She's the granddaughter of a famous opera singer - who lived in a tenement in the South Bronx? A paranoid recluse - who impulsively hires a male escort from a newspaper ad? No movie should ask you to believe more than one improbable thing yet The Wolf Hour keeps the demands coming. But Watts remains relentlessly watchable, and the film - which, with its single-set locale, could feel stage-bound - starts bringing other, equally complicated people on screen
What I can tell you, the film is definitely not a thriller. There is no thrill or suspense. In fact, it is full of boredom. The story is not engaging, not captivating and not sensical. If she is so scared of the outside, I struggle to find it sensical that she keeps the windows wide open. The story doesn't go anywhere either. It is just really boring.
In essence, all movies are the same, right? We have a setting, we are introduced to the characters, and then something unforeseeable happens to those characters, and then we got ourselves a movie. What is different about The Wolf Hour is that, very simply, nothing happens. We are not watching the beginnings of a disturbance in a character's life, in The Wolf Hour that disturbance already happened, and instead what we're dealing with is the aftermath of said disturbance.
When we first meet June she is in a bad place, in every aspect that is possible for a modern human being to be: physically, emotionally and economically. We are immediately drawn to the question "What happened to that woman?" And as the movie progresses, we get answers to that question. Those answers come in various forms, hidden in conversations, shown to us through an old cassete tape, through a phone call, through an incredible act of faith that takes form in a "Hail Mary" request for the odd delivery boy. What we witness on screen are not exactly the actions of June, since she is just going through the motions, uncertain of her future, but what drives her to take those actions and her reaction the the way they unfold.
The Wolf Hour is a deep and emotional character study of a once great woman who let her insecurities and fears get the best of her, and how in the darkest moment she sees clearly what's most important to her in life. It's an honest take on how life can get you down beyond your worst nightmares, nut how your worst enemy will always be yourself. You will always be the person to beat.
In the end, I think we all see ourselves in June. I know I did. "Is that character you?"
This is the kind of movie I really want to re-visit. But I don't look particularly forward to another go at this darkness.. Anyway.. By the end you really feel like you know this woman. Even though we have only had insinuations about her life before we meet her. Insinuations is in fact key in the telling of this story. This movie is in my opinion very well written, very well, directed and very well acted. As a result I was very pleasantly surprised.
Like the scene where she banked on Freddie to deliver the only copy of her book, giving him her last money and hoping he would come back with the check. You could feel the despair. And there are many memorable moments like this.
It was also nice that the ending stayed away from the usual formulaic act of physically fighting a bad guy but uses the riots as a vehicle for her to overcome her fear. If there was a moment to fear the outside world it was that moment of lawlessness. However June was too busy worrying about Freddie that she forgot about her own fear and this resulted in her overcoming her fear. It was really creative writing.
I thought the movie was an unique experience with many memorable moments.