Crime Drama

True Crime in Prime Time: A TIFF Review of ‘Woman of the Hour’

September 10, 2023Ben MK

Even as far back as Bonnie and Clyde, audiences have been fascinated with true crime stories. And whether it's big screen thrillers like Zodiac or small screen series like Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, moviegoers and television viewers' insatiable appetite for such tales has all but guaranteed the proliferation of the genre. It's an obsession that only deepens as the facts surrounding the crime grow more bizarre. And when it comes to bizarre facts, things don't get much stranger than the story of Rodney Alcala, the American serial killer whom some believe may have claimed as many as 130 victims.

Enter Woman of the Hour, the tension-filled directorial debut from Anna Kendrick, in which the Pitch Perfect star plays Sheryl Bradshaw, an aspiring Hollywood actress who, in 1978, was a contestant on The Dating Game. Little did Sheryl, the producers of the show, or anyone else for that matter, realize, Alcala (Daniel Zovatto) happened to be Bachelor #3 on that very same episode. And in what follows, the film recreates Alcala's now-infamous appearance, interweaving it with flashbacks and flash-forwards that reenact his encounters with his various victims. From a woman simply looking for help moving her belongings into her new apartment to a broke teenage runaway that seems like easy prey, these encounters are portrayed with bone-chilling effectiveness that will leave even genre die-hards on the edge of their seats. Still, it's the scenes that depict Alcala's interactions with Sheryl and his fellow bachelors on the show that ultimately prove the most mesmerizing and suspenseful.

Both a piercing commentary on the way women are forced to carefully navigate their day-to-day interactions with the opposite sex and a taut thriller that will scratch viewers' true-crime itch, Woman of the Hour walks the fine line between statement and sensationalism. Either way, it makes for an auspicious debut feature from Kendrick, not to mention a refreshing change of pace for moviegoers weary of the genre's usual offerings.

Woman of the Hour screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 34 min.

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