Cinema Review: The Wolf Hour | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, September 25th, 2020  

The Wolf Hour

Studio: Brainstorm Media
Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin

Dec 11, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Several films released as of late seem to be drawing audiences back to the world of 1970s, with several focusing on New York City. The summer of 1977 saw communities gripped in terror due to an epidemic of landlord-driven arson and the Son of Sam serial killings. These atrocities were compounded by the intense heat and a constant distrust between neighbors and authority figures (local and national) as the city continued toward total bankruptcy. Culminating with an historical city-wide blackout plunging the city into total chaos, New York was seemingly in the darkest part of its history. That breaking point is where we find the characters of The Wolf Hour.

June (Naomi Watts) was once a lauded counterculture figure, challenging the status quo through her incendiary writing. Now, a well-publicized family scandal had sent her into silence. Her being deeply affected by the perceived downward spiral of the country, almost confirmed by a near-constant ticker of apocalyptic-toned radio news, has forced June to retreat from the world entirely. After surviving in her late grandmother’s South Bronx apartment for nearly four years, her doorbell starts ringing at all hours of the night, though no one responds to her demands for them to stop. As the heat increasingly becomes unbearable, and her paranoia and exasperation deepens, visitors to her apartment begin to press in from all sides, forcing June to terms with herself in more ways than originally thought possible.

Throughout my whole experience with The Wolf Hour, the movie constantly impressed as an exploration of dread: mentally, physically, emotionally, and existentially. June’s perpetual existence is almost entirely reactive, except when she starts running out of cash, and all the efforts she undergoes to better her situation is done through great mental hurdles. Many of these attempts simply blow up in her face. As the film continues, she becomes increasingly aware of how much she actually depends on human interaction to survive, though her stand-offishness becomes further entrenched by her deep-rooted agoraphobia. While the destructive events surrounding her small apartment continue to unravel, the film pushes the story toward a more hopeful conclusion - though it doesn’t actually get us there in a realistic manner.

While the film is designed as a slow burn in the vein of the best thrillers, the many psychological elements the filmmakers are playing with end up frayed and inconsequential by the final moments. While the structure of the movie provides a fantastic framework to explore not only New York in 1977, but also our current times of massive political and social upheaval, it doesn’t seem to do much with those storytelling devices. The infamous New York City blackout of 1977, which the movie features at its climax, feels less like the moment we’ve built up to, and more of a background feature that cheaply maneuvers the characters in the most easily conclusive fashion. That isn’t to say that the performances by any of the cast is phoned in or uninteresting - if anything, they are played so well, that the final act of the film feels almost a disservice to the work on-screen. Especially that of Watts (who gives a knock-out performance), Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Jeremy Bobb.

While the amazing production design, fully immersive costume work, and many moments of poignant despair in the story drives me forward, the too-distant cinematography, underutilized plot mechanics (mainly the door buzzer ringing, which is sold to audiences as a major conflict), and lack of cohesiveness makes this character study ultimately underwhelming. This is especially disappointing due to such a strong opening act where we feel the suffocating weight of the world around June, and yet the movie doesn’t mount tension or build upon its many phenomenal elements to warrant the film a more positive reaction.

While the movie has a fully fascinating foundation, a committed cast, and a simmering pace which sucked me in completely, its inability to utilize its many pieces satisfactorily in its conclusion undoes much of its own impact and legacy. The Wolf Hour is certainly worth a watch, though I find it doesn’t possess enough to encourage repeat viewings and lasting conversations over its themes.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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