Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Andrew Chown, Sierra Maltby, Michelle Johnston, Woodrow Schrieber, David Reale
Runtime: 1 hr 24 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 31 March 2022
Synopsis: While out for a run, Amy (Academy Award®-nominee Naomi Watts) learns there is an active shooter at her son’s school. She’s far from home with no fast way back, so she does whatever she can to protect her son and grapple the situation from afar. Her persistence leads to her direct contact with the shooter and police.
True to its title, ‘The Desperate Hour’ unfolds almost in real time as we follow Amy (Naomi Watts), a mother grieving the loss of her husband a year ago, struggle to get to her teenage son Noah’s school, where an active shooter incident has broken out. Unfortunately for Amy, she was on a long morning run in the woods before she received the emergency broadcast from the town’s police department about the incident, so it will take no less than an hour of running and limping as well as a brief car ride before she is able to get to town.
As conceived by writer Chris Sparling, the movie is structured much like his breakout hit ‘Buried’ – so like Reynolds did in that movie, Watts pretty much holds this 81-minute thriller together from start to finish. Oh yes, those expecting a more elaborate execution based on the aforementioned premise will no doubt be disappointed, given how most of the movie has Watts fielding an array of phone calls while navigating through the remote woods on her own, without the issues of poor reception or GPS in case you’re wondering.
Yet within its minimalist set-up, veteran Australian director Phillip Noyce and Sparling pull off a relatively impressive feat of keeping the pace tight and taut. Within a deceptively leisurely 15 minutes, Noyce efficiently establishes the building blocks of the narrative – the reason why Amy has decided to take the day off; the same reason why Noah pretends to be sick so he can avoid school; her mother flying in that day, and therefore a call to the auto repair shop to ensure her parents’ car would be ready; and last but not least, two other calls from a friend organizing a moms’ night out and her daughter’s elementary school.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that these contacts become her eyes and ears as she tries to get a better sense of the situation on the ground. Did Noah eventually go to school? Has he managed to escape or is he still trapped in the school with the shooter? Who exactly is the shooter? Watts is fantastic at conveying Amy’s desperation as a mother, and just as effective at showing how she transforms that anguish into both resolve and resourcefulness. This is effectively Watts’ one-hander, and she gives her all in a performance both raw and real.
That realism is however undermined by a credulity-straining third act, which sees Watts making some wildly irresponsible choices in order for her to eventually become some everyman hero. It is too obvious how Sparling is trying to up the dramatic urgency in the proceedings in order to deliver a more Hollywood-friendly climax, but the result of these injudicious creative turns causes the film to lose its own credibility, and ultimately opens it to criticism that it is simply milking a terrible real-life subject for cheap action thrills.
And because of its own desperate last-minute attempt at pandering to conventional movie-going sensibilities, ‘The Desperate Hour’ ends up falling short as an intimate drama cum social commentary on the horror that parents in America must feel when they hear of yet another school shooting incident. It still is an effective rollercoaster ride thanks to Watts’ intensely committed act, but one wishes that the filmmakers could either have decided to be realistic or be dramatic and not try for both at the same time; if it had known better what it wanted to be, it probably wouldn’t end up as the earnest, well-intentioned muddle it is now.
(An awkward cross between realistic social drama and dramatic thriller, this one-hander that boasts an impressively committed performance by Naomi Watts is watchable but hardly compelling)
Review by Gabriel Chong