If lock-downs and reduced contact gave us anything during the pandemic, it was a rise in the number of simpler movies involving less characters and crew. One of the most perfect examples of this is The Desperate Hour, a tension focused thriller centring largely on Naomi Watts plodding through the woods attempting to locate her son during a hostile event at nearby school.
The action takes place as Watts takes and makes phone call after phone call. The all too familiar iPhone ringtone jangling every 3-4 minutes as another development occurs. The stress levels climb as the chimes and notifications pop up pushing the story forward. On the one hand, the tension is easily maintained throughout. However, a viewer with an iPhone might just feel the need to change their ringtone if they use the same one following the movie as it quickly becomes overkill.
Watts in the Woods is a by far the most interesting yet frustrating element here. An interesting observation of this movie is that, typically, to enhance the tension of a scene the narrative will end with a cliff-hanger of sorts as the story shifts it’s focus momentarily to differing plot, character or story-line to avoid playing things out too soon and to maintain interest before coming back shortly after. The Desperate Hour does not have this luxury, instead the tension remains on the same character and frustration kicks in. Frustration is further exacerbated as the audience will likely have a differing angle of questions they feel Watts should be asking in order to gain more of an insight of just what is going on. However, a clever line of questions might reveal too much too soon, I guess this can be explained away as Watts being in a state of panic.
As the solo star Watts is perfectly watchable in the lead as she bounds through the forest, racing against time, sore muscles and the panic to get to her child. Although, the film’s low budget and limited crew hampers the overall feel of the film and things feel a little more like a cheap, mid-afternoon TV drama. This might tarnish the appeal to the avid cinema-goer as it lacks any gloss associated with more mainstream release. However, the film still engages and written well enough to keep things moving.
An extraordinarily redeeming feature of the film is, in order to help pad out the runtime the Director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger and The Saint) spends a lot of time filming Watts’ surroundings, with multicoloured Autumn/Fall landscapes and impressive aerial imagery. This is much needed to avoid the continual focus on Watts becoming claustrophobic.
I don’t feel the causal viewer will get as much out of this as I did, but ultimately, this is a film by a group of people determined to tell an interesting story despite the limitations of the pandemic. A band of film enthusiasts who are not letting a crisis get in the way of their desire to make movies, and for that, I applaud The Desperate Hour.