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New Release Review [VOD] - THE WOLF HOUR

the wolf hour review
An agoraphobic writer lives amid the rising tensions of 1977 New York.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alistair Banks Griffin

Starring: Naomi Watts, Emory Cohen, Jennifer Ehle, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeremy Bobb, Brennan Brown

the wolf hour poster


Though I've visited modern day New York, with its scrubbed streets and gleaming storefronts, the image of the city forever cemented in my mind is the New York I grew up watching in movies. The grimy, crime-ridden, bankrupt metropolis of the 1970s and '80s. The New York of Taxi Driver, Death Wish and Maniac. In that era, America's greatest city was a symbol of urban decay, and no period of time exemplified this quite like the summer of 1977. It was one of the hottest summers on record at that point, and the heat heightened the city's already tense atmosphere. David Berkowitz, aka the "Son of Sam", was mowing down his victims with a 44. caliber pistol, contributing to an unprecedented murder rate. Facing bankruptcy, slum landlords were burning down their own buildings for insurance money, regardless of whether they were occupied or not. The NYPD was riddled with corruption. Racism and homophobia were growing in response to the rising popularity of Disco, the greatest American musical movement since Jazz. The 4/4 beats of August Darnell and Nile Rodgers provided a suitable soundtrack for a city that rarely slept, and when it did, it was with one eye open. And then came the blackout...

the wolf hour review


It's in the days leading up to the infamous New York blackout - when all power to the city was cut following a lightning strike, and looting and rioting became widespread - that writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin sets his confined drama The Wolf Hour. In a rancid apartment in the notorious South Bronx lives June (Naomi Watts), a writer who burst onto the literary scene with a controversial novel that caused friction with her family, drawing as it did on her own real life experiences of growing up in wealth.

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June has since confined herself to the apartment left to her by her grandmother, living off the last remnants of the advance she received for a followup novel she can't bring herself to write. Suffering from intense agoraphobia, June refuses to leave the apartment (and given the terrors lurking in the streets of New York at this point, can you blame her?). Garbage piles up around her as she spends most of her days sleeping, smoking and drinking. Adding to her fear is her intercom, which buzzes several times every evening, but no voice is ever heard, just crackling, other-worldly static.

the wolf hour review


Passing through this claustrophobic setting are occasional visitors and interlopers. June's sister, Margot (Jennifer Ehle), briefly lightens her spirits and helps clean up the apartment, but June enters self-destruct mode and causes her sibling to walk out, not for the first time. A delivery boy (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from the local bodega is her main point of contact with the outside world, inveigling his way into June's apartment to wash the sweat off his torso, and extorting money to perform odd jobs like taking out the trash. A cop (Jeremy Bobb), arriving a full week after June logged a harassment complaint regarding the mysterious intercom, shows little sympathy and ends up sexually harassing her himself. A night with a young gigolo (Emory Cohen) gives June some brief reminder of the life she left behind.

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Working with cinematographer Khalid Mohtaseb and production designer Kaet McAnneny, Banks Griffin gives his film the dimly-lit, hazy look of '90s David Fincher. Even when the curtains are pulled open and the baking sun penetrates June's apartment, she's still enveloped in shade, as though projecting her mental state out to her surroundings. The grimy visuals go a long way to capturing the mood of the unseen city outside June's windows, and combined with radio and TV snippets, make the film's limited setting somehow seem more expansive.

the wolf hour review


Banks Griffin gets value for his low budget, but without a compelling central performance it would all collapse. In recent years Watts has become one of those actors we like to joke about needing to speak with her agent, taking a slew of roles in straight to video trash that's well beneath her talent. The Wolf Hour has its issues, chiefly in how its simmering tension ultimately leads to a predictable and bland conclusion, but it's Watts who keeps us gripped throughout. It's the best role she's had in a long time, an overdue reminder of the actress who wowed us in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive so long ago. So expressive is Watts that a didactic scene in which she watches a video recording of an interview that fills in a backstory detail comes off as unnecessary. We don't really need to know what exactly has driven June to this point in her life - Watts' tortured face tells us enough.

The Wolf Hour is on VOD now.




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