The Toronto International Film Festival this year is jam-packed with films directed by actors, including Kristen Scott Thomas’ North Star, Michael Keaton’s Knox Goes Away, and Viggo Mortensen’s The Dead Don’t Hurt. But perhaps the most surprising is Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, Woman of the Hour, a suspenseful, witty, and dark serial killer drama-comedy that demonstrates she has a bright future behind the camera.
Woman of the Hour skips back and forth in time to portray the actual story of Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), a serial murderer who murdered an undetermined number of women. In the midst of these killings, Rodney appeared on The Dating Game, which he eventually won.
We learn how this man was able to build trust and ultimately murder his victims as we travel back and forth in time to years before and after Rodney’s game show experience. We also follow Kendrick as Cheryl Bradshaw, an aspiring actress who appears on The Dating Game to gain attention for her career.
In exposing Alcala’s heinous atrocities, Kendrick demonstrates both his horrifying behaviour and the awful, throwaway treatment of women during this time period. Several women warn about Alcala’s conduct, but they are dismissed or disregarded. At times, the frustrations of women who speak out and are ignored are almost as heinous as the killings themselves.
Even when Alcala isn’t onscreen, Kendrick conveys the overwhelming male pressure in every scene, such as when she tries to ignore the flirtatious moves of her only friend in Los Angeles (Pete Holmes), or how the host of The Dating Game (Tony Hale) looms large over every aspect of the show.
In portraying this serial killer’s narrative, Kendrick demonstrates how terrifying it can be to disappoint a guy, as well as the hoops that are frequently jumped through for the express purpose of feeling protected.
The personification of this notion is Daniel Zovatto’s role as Rodney, who entices individuals with flattery, charm, and his photographic skills before assaulting his target. Kendrick never explicitly depicts Rodney’s actions, moving away before we see the worst of it; nonetheless, not depicting the occurrences is far more powerful, leaving just enough of his narrative to our imagination.
Zovatto excels at transitioning from a possible “nice guy” to a tremendous menace and back again. We get that he may be tempting, but he could also make a terrible mistake. Even though we are aware of the beast within Rodney, Zovatto lets us comprehend how he has been able to get so close to so many people with no actual consequences.
Kendrick is just as talented as Zovatto, both in front of and behind the camera. Cheryl Bradshaw personifies many of the issues and concerns that women face on a daily basis. There are several moments in Woman of the Hour, such as a friendly hangout with Pete Holmes’ character or an unsettling moment in a parking lot, where we can see Cheryl thinking about the best possible way to solve a scenario—basically, the best way to appease without causing pain or being hurt.
Kendrick does it with loud humour on The Dating Game, as she decides to take control of the game in her own unique way. Her interrogation of her three potential suitors feels like a release of years of pent-up feelings, as she asks questions like “What are girls for?” that freeze the men in their tracks. For once, she appears to be in command, and the men are terrified for their lives.
But maybe the most amazing aspect of Woman of the Hour is Kendrick’s treatment of Ian MacAlliser McDonald’s narrative. Woman of the Hour twists a serial killer’s narrative into a cautionary tale about avoiding trusting women. Some portions of this aren’t as fluid as others, such as Nicolette Robinson’s character Laura, who is at The Dating Game recording and recognises Alcala but feels like a mash-up of other women who warned about the killer. While it’s a little clumsy, it serves Kendrick and McDonald’s conceptual aims well and never feels unduly heavy-handed.
Kendrick establishes herself as an intriguing new talent behind the camera with her debut picture as director. Because of the nature of Woman of the Hour, she can depict herself as completely capable of playing up the uncomfortable pressure of a rom-com, the rapid-fire hilarity of The Dating Game portions, and the total dread of serial murderer assaults.
As we flash back and forth through time to see Alcala’s crimes, Kendrick is great at building tension, and when he and Cheryl are finally left alone together, Kendrick uses the large, empty spaces of a parking lot and the frame of the camera itself to create one of the most unsettling moments in the entire film.
Woman of the Hour is Kendrick’s strong debut, and her willingness to explore many genres—many of which seem odd for the actress—helps to build suspense via her adept direction. Her skills bring this interesting true-life narrative to the screen, making it one of the year’s most intriguing directorial debuts. Woman of the Hour is a taut, deftly handled thriller that stumbles at moments with its conceptual concerns but wins you over with its slick camerawork. If this is Kendrick’s first attempt at directing, it will be very interesting to watch what she does next.