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Saturday, September 9, 2023

‘Woman of the Hour’ TIFF Review – Anna Kendrick’s Unsettling Serial Killer Thriller

Anna Kendrick takes aim at the true crime serial killer story in her feature directorial debut, Woman of the Hour. A charming, kitschy ’70s set exploration of gender dynamics quickly gives way to an unnerving, suspenseful stranger-than-fiction tale of serial killer and rapist Rodney Alcala and his bizarre appearance as a bachelor on “The Dating Game.” Kendrick’s incisive vision, blending horror and humor with nonlinear storytelling, makes for an unshakable debut.

Kendrick pulls double duty for her debut, also starring as Cheryl Bradshaw, a struggling actress trying to carve out a career in California. Cheryl’s failed attempts to win over casting directors and gently rebuff her pushy neighbor put her at her wit’s end. That’s when her agent decides to land her a spot as the bachelorette on the popular live TV show “The Dating Game.” But it’s not just the typical stressors and anxieties of getting thrust into a live show with overbearing personalities to worry about; one of the eligible bachelors on her episode happens to be brazen killer Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto) in the midst of a ruthless murder spree.

Screenwriter Ian MacAllister McDonald and Kendrick tell this harrowing story nonlinearly, methodically painting a stark picture of Alcala’s tactics as he targets vulnerable women across the country throughout the ’70s. Kendrick frames Alcala’s acts in an unconventional way, giving precedence to his luring of targets, focusing on the victims themselves, and avoiding any gratuitously graphic depictions of what happens to them next. While it means Women of the Hour is mostly bloodless, it effectively instills tension that only becomes increasingly more palpable and intense as Alcala’s path begins to converge with Cheryl’s. It also helps that Zovatto delivers a skin-crawling performance, a menacing figure that can charismatically disarm long enough to lower his target’s defenses right before it’s far too late.

Nicolette Robinson gives a heartrending turn as the sole person to recognize Alcala. But the film ultimately belongs to Autumn Best, who plays a young teen runaway who finds herself unwittingly ensnared by the killer. It’s Best’s potent portrayal of the trusting teen and subsequent violence endured that stays with you. Kendrick knows it, too; the actor-turned-director steps aside to let Best deliver a cathartic sucker punch that breaks your heart as much as it assures that Best is destined for stardom.

It’s a tricky thing to tell a true crime story, especially one centered around a prolific rapist/murderer as heinous as Alcala. Kendrick boldly defies expectations by introducing humor, then eschewing it altogether in favor of a heady examination of how Alcala got away with it for so long. It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but Kendrick wrings abject terror through intense sequences. Depicting some of Alcala’s crimes out of order only adds to the suspense, removing a sense of safety. So, too, does keeping the attention on the women he preys upon, lending dramatic weight that heightens the intensity.

Woman of the Hour does play it a bit loose with historical fact, but it’s such a minor note in such an auspiciously twisted and lean thriller anchored by powerful performances. Kendrick’s directorial debut dazzles with its incisive commentary, and the first-time director demonstrates clever instincts in knowing when to weaponize dark humor and when to let the dramatic moments breathe for maximum impact. Kendrick tosses out some of the more familiar serial killer conventions, and yet nothing is lost in terms of intensity and nerve-fraying sequences. It makes for an authentic, poignant, and unsettling debut.

Woman of the Hour made its World Premiere at TIFF. Release info TBA.

4 out of 5 skulls


The post ‘Woman of the Hour’ TIFF Review – Anna Kendrick’s Unsettling Serial Killer Thriller appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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