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TIFF Movie Review: Woman of the Hour

Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, WOMAN OF THE HOUR, is a phenomenal depiction of the infamous and shocking true crime story of serial killer Rodney Alcala’s 1978 appearance on The Dating Game. But more than that, Kendrick uses the story as a backdrop to explore the enduring struggles faced by women, such as not being believed or putting yourself in uncomfortable positions to spare the feelings of others. These issues were just as much a problem in the 1970s as they are today… whether it’s in your job, with friends and family, or… well, hopefully not in the presence of a serial killer.

It was especially interesting how the film showed the toxic forms of masculinity personified in each of the three dating game contestants. So much so, I can see it becoming a fun after-movie game… categorizing problematic people in your life as to whether they are more like contestant 1, contestant 2, or God forbid contestant 3. Seeing Kendrick’s character eventually take back some of her agency and go toe-to-toe with these contestant representations of misogyny, as well as the brutal killer, was a special treat.

WOMAN OF THE HOUR centers around Cheryl Bradshaw (Kendrick), a struggling actor, on the hunt for her big break. Cheryl is struggling to get past the audition phase and is excited to hear she booked a spot on the popular TV series, The Dating Game. She didn’t even need to audition! Sally Field went on the show so why couldn’t this be a potential win for her too?

The bad news is, unbeknownst to Cheryl, one of her three hidden male suitors is serial killer Rodney Alcala. He just so happened to take time out of his busy schedule of murdering women to appear on national TV to try to charm America. Through a series of flashbacks during the lead-up to Cheryl’s on-air appearance, we are given a glimpse into Alcala’s life as a photographer, as well as insight into the women he murdered. Now the question is… will Cheryl choose him as her final date and if so, will she be his next victim? For those that don’t know the true story, buckle up!

It’s hard to believe WOMAN OF THE HOUR is Kendrick’s first film as a director. Her voice and vision already seem very confident and focused. I especially loved her use of flashbacks throughout the main storyline of the film, which can be a tricky plot device when used by less skilled filmmakers. Each transition from the main storyline to one of Alcala’s victims and attacks was not only executed smoothly and cleverly, it was also perfectly calibrated to the film’s expert pacing. I never felt like any of the flashbacks took me out of the story, it only added to the building tension of Cheryl’s upcoming encounter with a monster.

I appreciate that Kendrick and writer Ian McDonald didn’t shy away from depicting Alcala’s brutality but didn’t linger on any of his attacks either. Most importantly, they showcased each victim’s humanity, a behind the curtain look into their lives before Alcala. With only a 90 minute runtime, the fact Kendrick and McDonald took the time to give the victims a voice is important to the morality of the story, as well as the real people affected by this.

WOMAN OF THE HOUR is an expertly filmed, thrilling entry into the true crime genre. Even though I knew more or less what was going to happen in the story, the well-paced film finds ways to add tension and excitement throughout. Many women are going to see themselves in the scenarios faced by the characters in the film, which is a glaring statement in itself about the fact that the female experience has not changed as much over the last fifty years as we may have hoped.

My Review: B

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