June (Naomi Watts) lives alone, a recluse in the Bronx apartment she inherited from her Grandmother, in a post-war neighborhood that has since degenerated into crime and chaos. In the summer heat of 1977 (the “Summer of Sam”), just outside June’s window, the city is roasting in its own juices and rage fills the streets. Looting and riots break out when the lights go out in the famous blackout, and somewhere out there in the night the Son of Sam is stalking and killing. To add to June’s mounting anxiety and terror, someone keeps buzzing her door, though when she asks who it is, or looks out, no one is there.
Her fame as a writer came ten years ago for a subversive counter-culture novel, a slightly camouflaged condemnation of her wealthy father. She took an outspoken feminist position publicly and was unprepared for the blowback. Her life came apart, and she shut herself away from the world. Trash piles up inside the apartment, which is stacked with books and papers that she stumbles over.
“Her life came apart, and she shut herself away from the world…”
Only a few people pierce the solitude of her private world. A delivery man named Freddie brings her groceries from a local bodega, a sleazy cop who comes around a week late to check her report of the constant buzzing of her door, and a former colleague who visits her and shows absolute disgust when she enters the apartment. June seems to have no path to redemption back to the outside world.
While written and directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, the weight of this film sits firmly on the shoulders of Watts, who was also an executive producer, and she turns in an amazing virtuoso performance as the writer stuck in her apartment with crippling agoraphobia.
“Watts has always been willing to go all-in for a role, and her performance is riveting…”
Griffin indulges in some speculative dark fantasy, having the reclusive writer respond to a newspaper classified ad for a male prostitute. The man who shows up bears a striking resemblance to David Berkowitz and he trippingly rolls out Son of Sam’s introduction from his third letter: “Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C…” June does not seem to be aware that she might be having sex with the .44 caliber killer, but the viewer is. On the other hand, Berkowitz in ‘77 looked like a thousand other guys, and that phrase had been read out on the radio repeatedly, so maybe not. The claustrophobia of the apartment is driven home by the camera work and the soundtrack, artfully encasing the viewer in the atmospherics of that constrained space. The film title comes from a science fiction radio show that June enjoys: Jim Freund’s Hour of the Wolf.
Watts has always been willing to go all-in for a role, and her performance is riveting as June, who is practically vibrating with anxiety and covered in sweat for the whole film. The Wolf Hour is a reminiscence of the grime and sleaze of New York in the ’70s, and the apocalyptic images of the city burning during the blackout.
The Wolf Hour (2019) Written and directed by Alistair Banks Griffin. Starring Naomi Watts. The Wolf Hour screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
8 out of 10