Naomi Watts plays June Leigh, an agoraphobic recluse cramped in an under-lit Bronx apartment. From the limited perspective of her tiny New York apartment, crammed with dusty old books and unemptied trash bags, we explore her dread. The only company June (mostly) has is the crackling of the radio or the television. It’s an unsettling sound, detailing a 1977’s New York plagued by unbearable heat and the Son of Sam’s killing spree. The self-inflicted quarantine and the constant dread of news bulletins is a sentiment all too real to many living in the middle of the Coronavirus lockdowns.
June is haunted by a door buzzer giving off at an alarming frequency, at all times of day, yet no one appears to ever be there. June was a once respected author, and her mental health becomes more and more brittle, unaided by harassment and the apocalyptic feeling of the outside world. The film rolls through time and space, all unspecific and languid. She has deserted her former life and privilege, to live in a derelict neighbourhood where looting, fire and blackouts are a frequent occurrence.
It’s unclear how long she has been here— long enough to have a regular delivery set up with a local bodega— and a collection of trash forming around her apartment. The only other characters we meet in The Wolf Hour is a visit from an unwanted old friend (Jennifer Ehle), the delivery boy (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and a creepy cop (Jeremy Bobb). This film is mostly a one-hander from Naomi Watts, an expert at playing these types of neurotic characters with jagged edges.
No matter the quality of Watts performance, The Wolf Hour is a cold film. June isn’t an easy character to spend time with. She walks around chain smoking, failing to write and generally feeling sorry for herself. She replays videotapes of herself, younger and put together, standing up for her craft against a condescending interviewer. It’s hinted at that previous trauma somehow linked to her celebrated debut is holding her back from writing a second. June treats her own past like it belongs to another character, someone audience haven’t met yet, making it hard to have any empathy for her.
The film shies away from any racial and class themes. She is a vulnerable white woman from a wealthy background living alone in a predominantly poor and black neighbourhood. She complains about her life to her poor black delivery driver, and he merely raises an eyebrow. The struggle to make great art is also undermined. It is implied that sex with an unrealistically sensitive gigolo (Emory Cohen) helps her regain creativity. Even the idea that June, a 1970s feminist, is humourless and paranoid has become a terrible cliché. The production design and immersive costuming are one of the better elements of this film. The costuming and apartment design never falls into the 1970s clichés that become a parody of an era.
The atmosphere of the near constant menace that writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin and cinematographer Khalid Mohtaseb, never leads anywhere. The buzzing doorbell is a nerve-churning start that becomes hard to maintain. There is always the promise of something else lurking behind that closed door, but it’s too abstract to keep audience attention. Any intrigue set up in the first half of the film is soon wasted with unused plots and squandered performances.
Naomi Watts convinces as a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but The Wolf Hour is more concerned about setting a mood in the background, than doing anything in the foreground. Ultimately, The Wolf Hour feels like a failed, surreal theatrical experiment.
The Wolf Hour is available on Digital now
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia Harvey is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy