“Adjusting to a new reality takes time,” and the suspense drama The Desperate Hour, directed by Phillip Noyce certainly takes this statement to heart.
The Desperate Hour stars Hollywood veteran Naomi Watts as Amy Carr, a widowed mother to Emily and Noah. What begins as a regular hectic day for her turns into another nightmare she’s trying to escape – or rather, escape to.
One year prior, Amy’s husband passed away from a car accident, and her family has been struggling to come to terms with this new, unwanted chapter of their lives. It’s an ordinary weekday and, due to her own persisting pain, Amy misses work and goes for a morning jog, only to witness a line of police cars drive past. Shortly after, she receives an emergency alert on her phone with breaking news: an active shooter has been reported at her son’s high school. Having gotten lost on her route and with every road blocked off by police and no one able to come to get her, Amy takes off through the dense woods to reach the school and find her children. Along the way, she reaches out to whoever she can to gather more information. But, when she gets a phone call from a local police detective, her already titled world slides completely off-centre when he begins asking her questions no parent wants to hear.
Grief blurs many lines, and reality is just as vulnerable to harm as any human life. Can Amy face a horrible truth if it implicates the family that she has left? The Desperate Hour opens with a shattering of peacefulness; a simple, yet clear indication of what’s to come.
Although the subject matter is very serious, a thin beam of gold-white hopefulness, however, tainted by the grey shades of hurt, strings each subsequent scene together, sort of like those tiny pearls one finds in the blackness of the sea, difficult to find but they’re all the same. This is primarily showcased through the score and sound effects.
The forest scenery is absolutely stunning, with the colours of summer and fall clashing together and is bizarrely idyllic for such a disturbing situation.
A large majority of the piece, perhaps eighty of the eighty-four-minute runtime feels like a book written from the first-person point of view: we as the audience only follow Amy. All we know is what she knows. The mixed and half-interrupted, scattered messages she receives about the shooting are vague, frantic and frustrating, and because the editing of the film has us trapped with Amy — in the forest miles from school — all of us are left feeling anxious and helpless.
Many of the camera shots are at a distance – high above the tree line or far off to one side. This establishes a feeling of smallness. And, when an event as heavy as this is taking place, every bullet — fired or not, makes us all feel insignificant in the face of possible death. In contrast, when the stakes are gradually raised, the camera zooms in closely, which creates intimacy as well as susceptibility because when we see that close, we can’t see the bigger picture and that’s perhaps one of the most frightening things of all.
The film is very similar to Netflix’s recent adaptation of The Guilty, with Jake Gyllenhaal. Much of the action happens offscreen. We’re left with emotional responses and snap reactions, both wise and unwise.
Like every story, Noyce’s piece has the potential to be enticing, but it falls short. The motivation behind the antagonist’s actions isn’t unique but it is understandable and, unfortunately, relatable, because it’s a motivation that’s been demonstrated again and again on the news. When people are hurt, they need someone to listen regardless of how they make that happen.
The biggest strength of The Desperate Hour is how it illustrates a mother’s love. Mothers are remarkable beings and they’re braver than they realise. Naomi Watts does a good job of harnessing this truth and personifying it. After all, she alone carries the film. Though Noyce’s piece isn’t flawless, it’s more a tribute and a contribution to raising awareness for a social issue. Noyce, the cast, and the crew use their talents and their voices to remind us how utterly essential it is to eliminate gun violence.
The Desperate Hour is out on Digital and On Demand now
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95