The Wolf Hour

 

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Repulsion meets Barton Fink in this psychological drama featuring a magnificent turn from Naomi Watts.

 

Wolf Hour, The

Self-isolation: Naomi Watts

  

Public service announcements urge us to stay indoors. There is anti-social behaviour on the streets. The world is no longer what it used to be. But nobody is more self-isolated than June E. Leigh, who double-locks the door of her tenement apartment in The Bronx and orders her groceries in. She’s too frightened even to step outside onto the landing. However, this is not 2020, but 1977, revealed by June’s smoking habit, the tape deck in her radio, the Twin Towers faintly visible on the horizon. Nothing is forced about Alistair Banks Griffin's film, which gives it its power and displays its intelligence. For much of the time it is a mystery waiting to ignite.

 

We learn that June (a mesmerising Naomi Watts) is an agoraphobe, who lives on her own, surrounded by books, her grandmother’s vinyl collection (we hear a snatch of Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore) and more perishable detritus. Her refrigerator is virtually empty and her wallet is heading in the same direction. It is when she rings Margot (Jennifer Ehle), that the pieces begin to fall together. June begs Margot for money, and then Margot comes round – from the country – to check on her old friend, the great writer. As Margot enters June’s inner sanctum, she gags from the smell.

 

The next scenes, between Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, give us hope. Not many films, generic or otherwise, feature two actresses in their fifties at centre stage. Not that Naomi Watts looks anywhere near fifty. Lithe, simmering and untouched by cosmetic interference, she must be the sexiest 51-year-old in Hollywood. And yet hers is a warts-and-all display of physical nakedness. The beautiful lines on her face display character over vanity and June’s mental vulnerabilities make for a compelling, sympathetic figure.

 

As the writer’s mental world unravels in psychological distrust and paranoia, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) leaks all over the screen. June’s intercom buzzes through the night and the few strangers she encounters (a lecherous police officer, a scheming delivery boy) hardly restore her faith in the outside world. Time, then, for another bottle of wine and another packet of cigarettes. The Wolf Hour works so well because its writer-director never pushes the buttons of melodrama available to him. He keeps the score to a minimum, reins in any redundant exposition and resists any of those alienating, Polanski-esque tricks of the camera. The sheer power of this study of claustrophobia and writer’s block rests in the hands of Naomi Watts’ performance – and she wrings it with exquisite skill.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Naomi Watts, Jennifer Ehle, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Emory Cohen, Jeremy Bobb, Brennan Brown.

 

Dir Alistair Banks Griffin, Pro Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Bradley Pilz, Ex Pro Naomi Watts, Screenplay Alistair Banks Griffin, Ph Khalid Mohtaseb, Pro Des Kaet McAnneny, Ed Robert Mead, Music Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, Costumes Brenda Abbandandolo, Dialect coach Jerome Butler.

 

Automatik/Bradley Pilz Productions/HanWay Films-Signature Entertainment.

95 mins. 2019. Rel: 23 March 2020. Available on all UK Digital platforms now. Cert. 15.