The New York City blackout of 1977 might be the perfect backdrop for a thriller: a financial crisis heightening social tensions, a serial killer on the loose, and heat waves making all the fear and anger rise up to the surface.
The Wolf Hour by Alistair Banks Griffin (“Two Gates of Sleep”, “Gauge”) uses this appropriate time period as a background to its plot, but maybe a bit too literally: June, Naomi Watts (“Mulholland Drive”, “King Kong”), our protagonist, is a recluse writer too afraid to step outside her apartment, where she tries to write a follow up to her best-selling debut novel.
What is happening on the streets is only seen through her window or on TV & radio, a constant chatter that increases her initial fears and create a feverish atmosphere for the viewers. Unfortunately, the fever fizzles out, leaving only an underwhelming film with only a few highlights.
One of these highlights is Naomi Watts, who gives her all in June’s paranoia and struggles while still letting space for the audience to find empathy for the character. Her isolation doesn’t mean that she is the only character we see: a small cast of characters makes ephemeral visits.
These are never as engaging as when June is on her own, however. With the exception of June’s sister Margot, Jennifer Ehle (“Zero Dark Thirty”, “Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion”), the rest of the characters are clichés whose relationship and dialogues with June feel forced and awkward.
The sound design, as well as the cinematography by Khalid Mohtaseb (“Bloom”, “Eden”), all greens & yellows and shiny sweat, suffocate the viewer in all the right ways, recreating the feverish atmosphere of that specific summer and making us both desperately want to escape the too cramped apartment while also appreciating its comfort against an hostile world. Too bad the rest of the film lags behind.
A great example of this is what is presented as the film’s biggest mystery. As much as June tries to stay hidden in her little corner of NYC, the world keeps knocking at her door, or rather push her buzzer: a mysterious person seems to harass her at any hour of the day via her intercom, but only distorted sounds comes to her when she answers. This goes on for the majority of the film, adding to the tension, until it is dropped as suddenly as it appeared with no satisfying conclusion.
The entire film carries that same feeling of disappointment, even if the journey does have a few great moments.