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“Woman of the Hour” Compels

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 10th, 2023

Anna Kendrick in WOMAN OF THE HOUR. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Woman of the Hour (Anna Kendrick, 2023) 3½ out of 4 stars.

Anna Kendrick (Alice, Darling) moves into the director’s chair with Woman of the Hour, a harrowing examination of serial killer Rodney Alcala, who may have killed up to 130 women over the course of the 1970s (even if he was eventually convicted of only 7 murders). In a bizarre twist, he was also a contestant on the popular television game show The Dating Game. Screenwriter Ian MacAllister McDonald (Some Freaks) uses that real-life occurrence to anchor this tale of horrors that layers elements of comedy on top of significant tragedy. That fusion mostly works, though it can sometimes be as hard to watch as to look away.

Kendrick stars as Cheryl Bradshaw, the aspiring Hollywood actress who made the almost-fatal mistake of picking Alcala as her bachelor of choice when she appeared on the show. Though the television shenanigans provide much of the movie’s humor, we spend a lot of time cutting back and forth through time to set up enough of Alcala’s spree to know how dangerous he is. Those sections can shock, but without them there would be no real dramatic stakes.

Daniel Zovatto (Vandal) plays Rodney, and though he can be extremely menacing, he brings plenty of gentle charm to the part, initially disarming his victims with intelligence and sensitivity. The opening scene is especially brutal because of how much empathy he appears to show towards the young woman he will soon dispatch. Sequences like this are profoundly sad, as well, but that emotional power fuels the rest, working as subtext when we get to the lighthearted game-show set.

l-r: Tony Hale and Anna Kendrick in WOMAN OF THE HOUR. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Cheryl ends up on The Dating Game because her acting career has gone nowhere and her agent thinks this could help get her “seen,” as she puts it. Tony Hale (Being the Ricardos) is the host, complete with awful ‘70s sideburns and unctuous charm, beneath which is plenty of the all-too-usual misogyny. Thanks to Hale and the rest of the ensemble, there’s a real comic sparkle in these moments, though things turn darker as Rodney can’t help but unmask himself a bit.

In the studio audience is another woman, Laura (Nicolette Robinson, One Night in Miami…), who thinks she recognizes Alcala from a traumatic moment in her past. Hers is one of the many fine performances in here by women who give it their all, recalling last year’s She Said in the ways these supporting roles—including the actresses who play the victims—elevate their time on screen through indelible short turns. Among them is Autumn Best, who’s part as a young runaway proves crucial to the plot.

l-r: Matt Visser, Tighe Gill and Daniel Zovatto in WOMAN OF THE HOUR. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

This is a powerful work, even if some of the shifts in tone clash in their combination. Both script and mise-en-scène complement each other, condemning a world where the words—and lives—of women are secondary to male privilege. The woman of the hour is composed of many voices who clamor to be heard. Now is their time.

[Woman of the Hour just had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as part of the Special Presentations Programme.]


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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