Film & TV

Film Review: ‘The Desperate Hour’: Naomi Watts Gives It Her All in a Bonkers Thriller

BY Michael Clark TIMEFebruary 25, 2022 PRINT

You have to give Australian director Phillip Noyce (“Dead Calm,” “Sliver,” “Salt”) and screenwriter Chris Sparling credit for two things. They chose to make a movie about a school shooting and did so within a real-time presentation. Coupling such a volatile sub-genre with a style of filmmaking most people regard as a gimmick is a huge gamble to take—both creatively and ethically. Sadly, at almost every turn, with every roll, the result is snake eyes.

Noyce and Sparling go one step further by including just three on-screen characters who are both seen and heard, and they fill the remainder with disembodied voices via smart phone. This is also something of another micro sub-genre effort, which has really only worked well once: “Buried” from 2010 starring Ryan Reynolds which was also penned by Sparling.

The Opening Salvo Shows Promise

We find out a great deal about Amy Carr (Naomi Watts) within the first 10 minutes. She wakes in the morning listening to a self-help podcast titled “Coping with Loss,” makes sure her young daughter Emily (Sierra Maltby) catches the school bus, brews some coffee, and hopes against hope her teen son Noah (Colton Gobbo) has woken up on the right side of the bed.

Epoch Times Photo
Naomi Watts as Amy Carr in “The Desperate Hour.” (Vertical Entertainment)

It is implied that Amy jogs every morning, and on this particular day it seems everybody wants to talk to her at the same time. Her mother asks her to arrange a car repair, a co-worker at an accounting firm rings her intimating he might want to date her, and her well-intended but long-winded friend is relentless in consoling her on the eve of a tragic anniversary.

Not far into her run, Amy is passed by multiple oncoming, fast-moving police cars but doesn’t give it much thought and keeps going. It is only after alerts start blowing up her phone that it become clear something has gone awry: A shooter has taken hostages at Noah’s high school.

For a woman so seemingly intelligent, Amy has absolutely zero sense of direction. Although she’s only a couple of miles away from home, she instead programs her phone to take her to the local community center where students and teachers are being relocated, some 50 minutes away on foot. This will require her to make her way through heavily wooded terrain—an area she is probably not familiar with—and she immediately gets lost. It is merely the first of many gaping, nonsensical plot holes on Sparling’s part and the beginning of an unpleasant and infuriating narrative tailspin which consumes all but the last 15 minutes of the movie.

Pure Overkill

Perhaps out of a desire to put the audience inside Amy’s head, Noyce and cinematographer John Brawley switch back and forth between interchangeable, generic aerial shots of the woods and jittery hand-held, rotating camera work. It’s all terribly disorienting and adds absolutely nothing, save for maybe inducing motion sickness. Adding to the misery is composer Fil Eisler’s relentless, often bombastic, ham-fisted score. Having no music would have been far more fitting for this type of production. At about the halfway point the filmmakers toss in a plot twist which makes decent sense and is thoroughly plausible, but it also marks the movie’s arguably moral and storytelling nadir.

It’s far too early in the year to call “The Desperate Hour” the worst movie of 2022, but it is highly improbable that any studio will release another film so unneeded, so unwanted, so squirm-inducing, so utterly tasteless, and so difficult to watch. One of its few saving graces is a short (84 minutes) running time.

Oddly enough (or not), this isn’t the first movie of its kind to tackle such unsavory subject matter and, to be truly fair, some of these past productions are well-made and thought-provoking. Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine” (2002), Gus Van Zant’s “Elephant” (2003), and Lynne Ramsey’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (2011)—where the culprit used bows and arrows, are among the scant few to make a meaningful point and to do so in an artistically impressive manner.

Watts Goes All In

One of the most difficult things to do as an actor is to deliver an impressive and notable performance in a patently horrible movie and it wouldn’t be the first time Watts has achieved this feat. She gives it her all here and is beyond committed to the role. With the exception of the superb, little-seen “Luce” (2019), “The Desperate Hour” is just the most recent in a string of live-action misfires and clunkers Watts has appeared in since 2015. In much the same manner as Liam Neeson, Watts seems to be accepting every last role offered to her, regardless of quality, which in itself isn’t a bad thing; everyone has bills to pay and her days as a marketable leading lady are probably drawing to a close.

Epoch Times Photo
Naomi Watts as Amy Carr in “The Desperate Hour.” (Vertical Entertainment)

However, as one of the movie’s 17 producers, Watts should have never let this monstrosity make it past the first read phase. There is no meaningful reason whatsoever for this movie’s existence.

‘The Desperate Hour’
Director: Phillip Noyce
Stars: Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Sierra Maltby
Running Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2022
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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