I used to read scripts at a company that had a first look with a major studio; one story that we saw over and over again, as drama, comedy or thriller, was a film in which an agoraphobic woman struggled to leave her house. Usually tailored for a Sandra Bullock or a Meg Ryan, we took these scripts seriously; it felt like one day there would be a great film on this subject.
The Wolf Hour isn’t that film, but it’s better than the disparaging reviews it’s had since a Sundance selection in 2019. Writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin’s drama/thriller is set in the hot summer of 1977, and the infamous New York blackout plays a key role. But this is, topically enough, a story about self-isolation, and as such, has a certain topicality. Naomi Watts plays June E Leigh, a gifted writer given a record-breaking advance to write a follow-up to a successful novel. She repairs to her grandmothers apartment in the South Bronx to write, and when the story starts proper, she’s years past her deadline and her writing isn’t going anywhere good. Instead she’s alone and obsessed with the constant threatening buzzing of her intercom, but the police don’t take her seriously and accuse her of crying wolf.
There’s a latent threat here, but where from? The delivery man, who has strange wounds he washes in June’s sink? The cop, who seems unnaturally aggressive and suspicious of June’s claims? A one-night stand that June orders from a phone service? The gangs of youths who seem to congregate at her door? Or perhaps the visitor who seems to be supportive but June has her suspicions about? Of course, there’s a serial killer on the loose too, this is the Summer of Sam. The Wolf Hour turns over and examines each card in turn, and although the resolution isn’t blinding, there’s still plenty of enjoyment in the scenario. Watts, who also executive produces, is pretty good here, shredding her good looks in a Kidman/Destroyer way and managing to suggest how June can be both smart, literate and self-aware while unable to overcome her fear of leaving her house; there’s echoes of Mulholland Drive as she blankly stares down the bland facia of the intercom.
The Wolf Hour also does well to restrict the action to June’s POV, with views out of the window and an otherwise tight focus on what she sees. There’s a touch of Repulsion here, but it’s worth revealing that this isn’t a film about sexual threat, more about an individual’s fear of the outside world. With much of the world’s population going stir crazy due to lockdown restrictions at the time of writing, The Wolf Hour’s timely insight into a specific mental condition is probably a healthy shot of cinematic drama for us all; it’s an absorbing little mystery B-movie that deals with isolation is a sensitive way.
The Wolf Hour hits UK streaming on March 23 2020 and can be rented or downloaded via the link below.