While June (Naomi Watts) is cagey about herself in The Wolf Hour, the apartment she never leaves tells the audience everything they need to know about her. In the humid South Bronx summer of 1977, June squats in her grandmother’s former apartment, with the heat only worsening the smell of the garbage that cakes every inch of her residence. Newspapers are piled up, used cigarettes butts take up any free space, and her few visitors have to cover their nose to even stand being in the house of filth. But amongst the rotting food and ashtrays lies a book written by June, an acclaimed debut novel from four years ago that somehow is tied to her current situation and why June is afraid to reenter society.
In The Wolf Hour, the second feature from writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin, the driving force is trying to figure out what led a prominent author to become a dirty recluse. This mystery, alongside that of a mysterious person who buzzes her apartment buzzer without any response, are supposed to be enough to warrant this theatrical, paranoid character study, but The Wolf Hour doesn’t have enough treasure under the grime.
The Wolf Hour completely rests on the shoulders of Watts’ June, and while Watts does this strung-out, unwell character justice, the script often makes this scenario seem silly. Watching Watts attempt to take one step down outside of her apartment and failing, or dancing around to her radio are unintentionally humorous at times.
Making The Wolf Hour even a more difficult experience is the fascinating world outside June’s apartment, which is only seen through her open window, or heard through TV and radio broadcasts. The Son of Sam is killing women of June’s description in the streets, the apartments around June’s have burned down in recent years, and the mystery of who is ringing her buzzer could be answered by going down a few flights of stairs.
Which is probably why The Wolf Hour is strongest when June allows people into her empire of dirt. Margot (Jennifer Ehle) is another creative friend who wants June to get out of her funk and work on her next book, Freddie (Waves’ Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is the neighborhood delivery guy that June lets use her sink to clean up, and maybe most interesting, Billy (Emory Cohen) is a male prostitute June hires when she feels too alone. These glimpses of the outside present a vibrant world outside these walls that June and the audience are missing out on.
June on her own, and the mysteries that surround her self-imposed isolation, just aren’t that cinematic. Griffin tries to present the world outside as if it’s beckoning for June to leave her agoraphobic cocoon, making the sweaty apartment a nightmare that June needs to escape. Yet this building of tension towards June’s circumstance doesn’t provide the desired effect, leaving June’s meandering around her apartment to come off more listless than urgent.
The Wolf Hour’s look at trauma ends up being more a function of plot rather than a substantive glimpse into what is going on with June. Because of that, The Wolf Hour feels like June holing herself up while the world outside literally burns, without any deeper exploration as to June’s mental state. June’s internal world could’ve been just as exciting, had Griffin taken the time to dig into June’s issues, but instead, The Wolf Hour ends up as more of a reminder of what it could’ve been rather than what it is.