THE DESPERATE HOUR
2022, PG-13, 84 mins.
Naomi Watts as Amy Carr / Colton Gobbo as Noah Carr / Sierra Maltby as EmilyDirected by Phillip Noyce / Written by Chris Sparling
Phillip Noyce's THE DESPERATE HOUR is one of those minimalist, one setting kind of thrillers that concerns a mother that shockingly discovers that her son's high school is being targeted by a crazy lone gunman. She then spends the rest of the film - via phone calls, texts message exchanges, and zoom calls - trying to find out whether or not her son is still alive or among one of the many victims.
Australian born Noyce hardly needs any introduction to the thriller genre,
having helmed tentpole blockbuster franchises like Jack Ryan (PATRIOT
GAMES and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER) to the aquatic themed scarefest that
was DEAD CALM (which introduced the world to a then unknown Nicole
In many respects, THE DESPERATE HOUR is much more low key, scaled
down, and insular in focus than just about anything else on the veteran
filmmaker's resume, and its core concept is definitely intriguing enough
(this film represents every mother's worst nightmare scenario played out
in real time), but I'm not entirely sold on Noyce's handling of timely
world themed events like mass school shootings, which more or less is used
here as a plot device to hang the rest of the story on.
That, and the film devolves into logic defying chaos in its back
end, which unfortunately capsizes everything beyond repair.
DESPERATE HOUR begins modestly enough by introducing us to Amy Carr (a
rock solid Naomi Watts), a mother of two that decides to go out for a very
routine morning jog in her town's nearby forest.
She does this mostly as a form of stress releases, seeing as the
recent death of her husband in a car accident has still left her with
She's doing her absolute best, though, to tend to her children's
well being as much as possible, with her youngest in daughter Emily
(Sierra Maltby) and older son Noah (Colton Gobbo) also attempting to get
back to a place of normalcy, with the latter arguably having more
difficulty than the rest.
Just before she leaves her home for her run she stops by Noah's
bedroom to ensure that he's out of bed and getting ready for school, but
with the anniversary of his dad's death mounting he doesn't seem too keen
to go to school or even leave the house.
Amy decides to venture outside anyway and find some solace in the
natural environments that await her.
goes deep (like, really deep) into the woods to seclude herself as
much as she can from the outside world, but she still keeps her smart
phone with her.
Annoyance begins to kick in when she begins to receive many phone
calls from various friends and family, including her mother.
She dismisses most of them and tries to carry on with her workout,
but then she receives notice of a violent incident at her kids' school,
and with only a scant number of details floating in she goes into panic
mode rather quickly.
Amy doesn't become hysterical, however, and she soon takes it upon
herself to pull information in from as many online sources as possible to
discover what's actually happening, but what plagues her are thoughts that
her son and daughter's lives have been taken.
Adding to her tension filled morning is that (a) she's about an
hour out of town and (b) calling just about any ride share is getting
increasingly difficult with phone lines being jammed because of the school
She then manages to physically injure one of her feet during her
run, which is the last thing she needs to happen at this point.
When she makes contact with local police they begin to ask her some
alarmingly specific questions about Noahn, leading her to deal with an
added layer of anguish.
Is her son alive and well or has he been killed by the
active shooter or (heaven help her) is her son the shooter?
all of this is pretty compelling material, and the basic premise here of a
vulnerable and injured mother being relatively far away from civilization
- and without a quick way back to it - trying to process a senseless
school tragedy (and deduce whether her son is a victim or the perpetrator)
is deeply unsettling stuff, to be sure.
Most of THE DESPERATE HOUR hones in exclusively on Amy and her the
physical and psychological gambit that she's thrust into.
Noyce's film reminded me a lot of suspense laden/nightmare fuel
scenario films like BURIED and, more
recently, last year's THE GUILTY,
with all of these films being one-actor showcase reels that revolve around
single characters using phone technology to get a hold on their dire
situations and find exit routes.
To his credit, Noyce has most assuredly found the right actress in
Watts here to lead the charge, who's tasked with a tricky acting challenge
of portraying Amy constantly on the run for eighty plus minutes while
trying to stave off her injury and heartache in equal measure.
Watts occupies nearly every frame of THE DESPERATE HOUR, and she's
quite outstanding at evoking this poor woman's utter desperation and
horror while also giving her a fearless determination and inner strength
to do everything in her limited power to ensure her children are safe and
If anything, Watts completely holds this production together with
her presence alone.
the large issue that plagues this film is its handling of its school
shooting premise altogether, and as a piece of social commentary that
appears (as far as I can deduce) to want to say something about gun
violence/culture and the larger culture of mass shooting in school
settings it never seems equal to the task.
There's an exploitative vibe throughout THE DESPERATE HOUR that's
chillingly hard to shake, and using the framework of a school shooting
spree as a basic jumping off point for your thriller and then failing to
explore it in any meaningful way left a bad taste in my mouth.
Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the entire film
treats the event from an absolute distance and just focuses on the plight
The film looks at the event from the extreme outside and, when
everything is said and done, it's really about a beleaguered and
traumatized mother and not about those directly in the path of this
THE DESPERATE HOUR comes out on the heels of the infinitely better THE
FALLOUT from earlier this year, which was also about the divisive
and sensitive issue of gun control and violence in schools, but it got us
into the tormented headspaces of the teens that experienced it firsthand
and dealt with their journeys towards healing (and it did so without
shamefully politicizing it).
THE DESPERATE HOUR doesn't have anything to say about its subject
at all, other than kids in mortal danger/parent scared out of her wits.
Noyce and company do a decent job of infusing the film with an
undulating sensation of pure dread and Amy's predicament will undoubtedly
be relatable to any parent watching, but there's very little substance to
be found in terms of penetrating the dark truths behind what is becoming
an alarming epidemic of death in American schools.