‘The Desperate Hour’: Naomi Watts displays her range in a one-woman show, more or less

Her performance is the only reason to see the contrived and heavy-handed school-shooting movie.

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Naomi Watts plays a mom relying on her phone for updates on a shooting at her son’s school in “The Desperate Hour.”

Vertical Entertainment

Just last month with the release of “The Fallout” we were talking about how the School Shooting Movie has become an actual genre in the 21st century — and in the last couple of years we can add the Filmed During the Pandemic Movie as a new category, as we’ve had a steady influx of films in which the actors were isolated from each other for most of the shoot. (I think I’d be fine if I never saw another film in which everyone was on a video chat for the entirety of the story.)

‘The Desperate Hour’


Vertical Entertainment presents a film directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Chris Sparling. Rated PG-13 (for thematic content and some strong language). Running time: 84 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters and on demand.

“The Desperate Hour” checks both boxes. It’s about a school shooting (which takes place offscreen), as filtered through the eyes — actually the ears — of a mother who is temporarily isolated because she has gone for a long run in the woods. This is essentially a solo performance by Naomi Watts, who plays that mother and spends the vast majority of the movie on her own, talking on the cell phone, reacting to the latest news from the school, talking to law enforcement personnel and loved ones, and desperately trying to reach her children. Alas, despite the gripping and heartfelt performance by Watts and the credentials of veteran director Phillip Noyce (“Dead Calm,” “Patriot Games,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), this turns out to be tedious, overwrought and emotionally underwhelming.

Unfolding in real time, “The Desperate Hour” opens with a brief sequence in which Amy Carr (Watts), who lost her husband a year earlier, trying to get her depressed teenage son Noah (Colton Gobbo) out of bed and off to school. We’re not even five minutes into the story when Amy tells her son she’s going for a run and he needs to get up — and from that point forward, until a quick epilogue, it’s just Amy and her trusty cell phone as she goes deep into the woods.

The first signs of something amiss come in the form of police vehicles with lights flashing that go roaring past Amy; then her phone starts blowing up, and she eventually learns there’s been a shooting at her son’s high school. (At this point, “The Desperate Hour” joins another genre: the Telephone Movie, in which the main character is on the phone for much or most of the film, e.g., “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “Phone Booth,” “Locke.”) Apparently, Amy has run so deep into the woods there’s not enough time for her to return home and get to her car, and there are no ride-share drivers immediately available — so Amy desperately clings to that phone as she calls her son, tries to enlist the help of friends and strangers, talks to law enforcement authorities, and in a moment that defies all plausibility, finds herself on the line with the shooter.

Watts does a magnificent job of conveying Amy’s rollercoaster of emotions, especially in the moment when she realizes her son could be a suspect, but the actors portraying the characters on the other end of the line often overplay their lines, as if they know their voices have to compete with an onscreen Naomi Watts.

“Desperate Hour” is well-intentioned, and there are flashes of genuine dramatic tension, thanks to Watts’ performance. Mostly, though, it feels contrived and heavy-handed, with nothing really new to say about this well-traveled subject matter.

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