Set in the grim and steamy South Bronx in the blistering summer of 1977, a lurid psychological thriller without thrills called The Wolf Hour is as pointless and unspecific as its title. All it has going for it is a dolorous but passionately committed performance by a drab, unrecognizable Naomi Watts. She produced it to show off the range of her obvious talent, and deserves an A for effort in a vehicle that rates a D for dreary, desolate and depressing. The rest of The Wolf Hour deserves an F for forget it.
The star plays a once-respected author, June Leigh, whose career has tanked. She has deserted her former life and become a neurotic recluse locked inside a filthy slum, dwelling far away from her old safe and privileged existence. In the derelict neighborhood outside, violence is rampant in the streets and the city is in the middle of a blackout, triggering looting, fires, and the worst crime wave in New York history.
THE WOLF HOUR ★
Inside her cluttered, claustrophobic, one-room apartment she nervously chain smokes cartons of cigarettes while the intercom buzzes constantly, but there’s no one there. The conditions outside are so dangerous that it’s not even safe to go to the corner bodega for a bottle of water. To make things worse, the serial killer called the Son of Sam is on the loose. It’s Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, only creepier.
Any and every vestige of former beauty is gone in a reconstructed Watts with stringy black hair, covered with sweat in a dirty tank top, surrounded by copies of her well-reviewed novel about her father that was responsible for his death and the reason her family has disowned her. Now, she’s four years behind in finishing a new book for which she has gone through her advance, and she’s become a shut-in with writer’s block, consumed by paralyzing fear and riddled with anxiety and paranoia.
A few intruders arrive—a sympathetic delivery boy (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who uses her sink to wash off, a cynical cop (Jeremy Bobb), an old friend who tries to help (Jennifer Ehle), and a paid escort (Emory Cohen) she phones for desperate sex. They are excellent, but it is really Watts who dominates the film in what practically amounts to little more than an experimental one-woman acting exercise. Writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin provides plenty of menace but not much convincing psychological insight, and the title The Wolf Hour makes no logical sense at all.