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TIFF23: Woman of the Hour Is Chilling but Unnecessary

Courtesy of TIFF

As the true story goes, notorious serial killer Rodney Alcala appeared on the popular television program The Dating Show amidst his decade-long murder spree before his arrest in 1979. Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, Woman of the Hour, tells the story of Sheryl, played by Kendrick, a struggling aspiring actress who books The Dating Show for exposure and subsequently picks Rodney Alcala as her perfect match. Throughout the film, we jump back and forth from Alcala’s various victims and exploits to Sheryl’s life leading up to the taping and the game as it airs live.

The film premiered as a Special Presentation at TIFF on September 8th. Audiences left sombre, haunted by the crimes of Rodney Alcala and the chilling reality of how many women he is suspected to have murdered and how often he was reported by victims or witnesses only to be dismissed by detectives. It’s a disheartening reality to leave with.

For a movie about murder and the incompetence of the police, Woman of the Hour has Kendrick’s wit and smirky humour baked into the lighter moments. Not only is Anna Kendrick’s performance a humorous reprieve. Where Daniel Zovatto’s performance as Rodney Alcala is charismatic while horrifying, sending a chill down your spine, Woman of the Hour is also unexpectedly funny. It’s a mild attempt to leviate the audience’s spirit from the haunting crimes of Alcala, but I still left the theatre sick to my stomach.

Woman of the Hour, under Kendrick’s direction, picks up on the running emotions of a woman in fear. Each victim is shown charmed and then slowly becoming unnerved by the unravelling of Zovatto, lowering the friendly face to show the monster underneath. As a woman who has often felt that fear, it was hard to feel empathetic and invested in the outcome of these scenarios, begging for safety from the universe. As the story goes, most of Alcala’s victims do not reach a safe conclusion.

WOMAN OF THE HOUR: The Dating Game set
Courtesy of TIFF

Performances from Kathryn Gallagher and Kelley Jakle as victims of Alcala come across as chilling and stick with you, especially their struggle to stay alive the second it clicks into their brain that they’re in danger. The sequence of fear and your body’s natural reactions kicking in are all painfully well captured.

Nicolette Robinson as Laura, the mourning friend of an Alcala victim, is mesmerizing and emotional. She’s wrecked with guilt over what she ‘should have’ done and frustrated with the lack of care and attention her testimony gets from the police. Again, we see fear through a different lens: the fear we feel for another woman we see in danger and pleas left ignored or minimized, and the fear of what might happen to you should you try to intervene.

Autumn Best is Amy, the runway teen who plays into Alcala’s sensitivities, saving her skin and biding her time until she can run and call the police. Best’s performance was magnificent. Although, I’d say she struggles to layer her fear with a friendly face and replaces fear with a familiar face, an easy mistake to make as an actor. Her performance is still effective, emotional and heartwrenching but sometimes falters under the pressure of emotional nuances.

As a rule, throughout Woman of the Hour, we see the overwhelming emotions of women tricked and preyed upon for being good-natured and polite. Woman of the Hour explores that fear every femme person has felt in the presence of an over-possessive man who can’t seem to let the idea of you go. It’s a powerful experience watching this film, being drawn in by their performances that captivate and ignite the fight or flight response within you. However, I am all too familiar with this feeling and fear as a woman. The emotion was well captured. Congratulations, Anna Kendrick, but to what end?

I must admit the story of Rodney Alcala being daring enough after all that he’d done to appear on the national television program The Dating Show is a compelling narrative. But how many times must we give notoriety to the atrocities committed by these famed murderers? How many films and shows do we need about Rodney Alcala, Ted Bundy, and Jefferey Dahmer? Does recreating these horrors help eradicate the issue, or does it perpetuate the violence victims experience/ed?

I respect the work done on this film. Indeed, it captures the characters’ emotions well. And props to Kendrick’s feature-length directorial debut. However, that doesn’t negate the idea that maybe the world just doesn’t need Woman of the Hour.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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