Film: The Wolf Hour

Believe it or not, The Wolf Hour (2019) isn’t a pandemic production. It certainly has all the earmarks of one: a single, claustrophobic set, a tiny cast, a theme of isolation manifesting as the protagonist’s agoraphobia. In 1977, during a sweltering heat wave, June Leigh (Naomi Watts) is a once-promising novelist, now holed up in a squalid Bronx apartment with writer’s block. June’s psychological problems are many, centered on the success of her dark, semi-autobiographical debut. Since its release, she has retreated from the world, her interactions limited to visits from landlords and delivery boys, and she’s suffering from a crushing fear of leaving her home. Her isolation grows more desperate when the buzzer of her apartment starts mysteriously ringing at random times, with nobody on the other end. June’s infrequent encounters with the outside world gradually bring her out her tormented shell, culminating in a final, physical emergence during a terrifying moment during the Summer of Sam.

The general craft of The Wolf Hour is enough to sustain much of the film, even if it left me waiting in vain for the mystery to amount to something beyond its psychological allegory. There isn’t much substance or complexity to it, though, even if the period detail is well rendered and the performances—from Watts, Jeremy Bobb, Emory Cohen, Jennifer Ehle, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.—are nicely done. Unfortunately, its Hitchcockian pitch reveals itself to be little more than vague resemblance to Rear Window. Ultimately it’s a middling entry in the “shut-in woman questions her sanity” subgenre of psychological thrillers, failing to give its surface story enough weight to counterbalance the heavy metaphor of its smoldering character study.

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