The Desperate Hour (M, 84mins) Directed by Phillip Noyce ***
Twelve years ago, Chris Sparling gave the world Ryan Reynolds in a box, now he’s delivered up Naomi Watts running in a forest.
The movie that proved the then comedy specialist’s versatility and took the single-setting scenario to a new level (as well as seriously testing Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes’ skills at keeping audiences interested in a bloke in a coffin), Buried was an audacious triumph that paved the way for the likes of All is Lost and Locke.
The latter definitely informs this morning-in-the-life-of drama, as Watts’ tax specialist and still grieving widow Amy Carr fields a flurry of calls, while trying to take some time out on the roads and trails near her home.
The Desperate Hour is set over the course of one morning.
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Having seen her young daughter Emily (Sierra Maltby) onto the school bus and tried to rouse her increasingly distant teenage son Noah (Colton Gobbo), Amy has a relaxing “personal day” planned before a family night of dinner and a movie.
A year on from his death, a celebration of her husband Peter’s life is planned for the following morning, with her parents flying in for the commemoration.
So a run is a chance to clear her head, but the constant interruptions from friends, work colleagues, family and contractors, all making potentially complicated and time-consuming requests, put her off her stride enough to instigate the nuclear “do not disturb” function.
However, that’s just when she’s passed by a series of police cars high-tailing it in the opposite direction. Notifications and news reports reveal roads have been cordoned off and her children’s schools have gone into lockdown.
Unsure if Noah ever made it to class – and now herself five miles from home – Amy tries to quicken her pace, while frantically trying to find a way to confirm his whereabouts.
One of Hollywood’s go-to action directors in the 1990s, boasting a CV that includes Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Sliver and The Saint, Australian director Phillip Noyce shows here that he still knows how to wring tension out of a scenario (watching those three pulsating smartphone message dots has never been more gripping).
With the ever-reliable Watts (The Impossible, Boss Level) as his muse, the Sydney-sider constantly finds ways to keep the stress levels rising, while drawing the viewer into Amy’s plight. Clad in a fetching hoodie and beanie combo, Watts’ character may look like an escapee from the Blair Witch, but she is a compelling presence, grounding the sometimes contrived scenario in a palpable fear of what might happen next.
Not all of The Desperate Hour is a complete success though. While supposedly in real-time, there’s a certain amount of dramatic “slippage” and the gunman-with-a-grudge conceit (and her ability to directly contact them) isn’t handled in a particularly sensitive manner (which, given the time of year, may mean some Kiwi audiences would be best to give this a wide berth). A certain amount of predictability also creeps into the plotting, as the shooter’s identity is initially left deliberately cloudy.
More a clever solution to filming in Covid conditions, than a searing, must-see thriller.
The Desperate Hour is now screening in select cinemas nationwide.