Written by: Matt Patti
The Wolf Hour (Alistair Banks Griffin, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
Set in 1977 New York City in the midst of the “Summer of Sam,” in which the Son of Sam killer went on a killing spree leaving behind notes that baffled and terrified both citizens and police, and leading up to the NYC blackout riots, The Wolf Hour stars Naomi Watts (King Kong) as June Leigh, a former leading counterculture author/celebrity who is living in isolation in an apartment complex in New York City. June has put herself into isolation, and refuses any visitors to even step foot into her house. She never leaves the apartment, having her groceries delivered and taking her trash out by lowering it onto the street below via a rope. This bleak tale explores June’s feelings of loneliness, regret, and fear as she struggles to move on from events of her past and escape the current rut she’s in.
Naomi Watts gives a subtle, restrained, yet powerful performance as a has-been writer stuck in a depression. June is a paranoid, cautious, and overly careful woman who is stubborn and borderline rude, and Watts plays her perfectly. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give her much to do during the film. She has very few other characters to interact with and no dire situations to deal with. It’s a shame, because Watts’ performance is so great and with a better script could have been even more effective.
There’s not much to the film’s plot. Even with all the madness happening outside, we are stuck in the apartment with June for 90 percent of the film. This gets claustrophobic and repetitive at times, which may be how director Alistair Banks Griffin hopes the audience feels, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The most interesting parts of the film are actually when June is alone in her apartment dealing with simple issues. In those cases, the film acts as a character study and is somewhat interesting. It falters when June interacts with dull, uninteresting characters that add nothing to the film. There is also a complete tonal shift in the third act that seems to come from nowhere and is not earned. There are a few interesting plot points brought up that never seem to go anywhere and don’t pay off at the end, including a mystery that is referenced so many times in the film but never resolved.
Overall, The Wolf Hour is an underwhelming drama/mystery/light thriller, but a decent character study when we get to spend time with Watts, alone. Even so, the intrigue of the Son of Sam murders and blackout riots are wasted since they are seldom mentioned and appear very rarely in the film. It seems to me that the movie would be no different if it didn’t take place during those times and they were cut out completely. The character of June is great, but the pieces around her are inadequate and pedestrian, and even Watts’ performance can’t salvage the mediocre film surrounding her.