‘Woman of the Hour’ Review: Anna Kendrick’s Directorial Debut Is a Haunting, Surprising Serial Killer Story | TIFF 2023


This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.This year’s Toronto International Film Festival is packed with actors directing, with films like Kristen Scott ThomasNorth Star, Michael Keaton’s Knox Goes Away, and Viggo Mortensen’s The Dead Don’t Hurt. But maybe the most surprising of these is Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, Woman of the Hour, a tense, funny, and dark serial killer drama-comedy that proves she has a strong career ahead of her behind the camera.

Woman of the Hour jumps back and forth over the course of nearly a decade to tell the true story of Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), a serial killer who murdered an unknown number of women. In the middle of these murders, Rodney also appeared on The Dating Game—which he ended up winning. As we jump back and forth to years before and after Rodney’s game show experience, we see how this man was able to gain trust, and then murder his victims. We also follow Kendrick as Cheryl Bradshaw, a hopeful actress who takes the spot on The Dating Game as a means of exposure in her career.

In presenting the monstrous crimes of Alcala, Kendrick both shows his terrifying actions and the poor, disposable treatment of women in this period. As several women warn about Alcala’s actions, they’re brushed off or ignored. At times, the frustrations of women speaking out and being disregarded are almost as horrific as the murders themselves. Even when Alcala isn’t onscreen, Kendrick makes the overwhelming pressure from men feel known in every scene, like when she tries to ignore the flirtatious moves from her only friend in Los Angeles (Pete Holmes), or the way that the host of The Dating Game (Tony Hale) looms large over every aspect of the show. In telling this story of a serial killer, Kendrick shows how petrifying it can be to disappoint a man, and the hoops that are often jumped through for the sole purpose of feeling safe.

Daniel Zovatto Is Haunting as Serial Killer Rodney Alcala

TIFF Toronto International Film Festival 2023
Image via TIFF

The embodiment of this idea comes in Daniel Zovatto’s performance as Rodney, who lures people in through flattery, charm, and his talents in photography, before attacking his prey. Kendrick never directly shows the crimes of Rodney, cutting away before we see the worst of it, but not showing the incidents is even more effective, leaving just enough of his story to our imagination. Zovatto is excellent at switching between potential “nice guy,” monstrous threat, and back again. He is a person we understand could be alluring, but could also be a dreadful mistake. Even though we know the beast within Rodney, Zovatto still makes us understand how he’s been able to get so close to so many people without any real repercussions.

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Just as great as Zovatto is Kendrick, both in front of and behind the camera. As Cheryl Bradshaw, she personifies so many of the fears and worries women have on a daily basis. There are several moments in Woman of the Hour, like a friendly hangout with Pete Holmes’ character, or an unsettling moment in a parking lot, where we can see Cheryl thinking about the best possible way to solve a scenario—which is basically the best way to appease and not to cause pain or get hurt as well.

Kendrick also does this with a brash hilarity while on The Dating Game, where she decides to take hold of the game in her own way. Her questioning of her three possible suitors feels like years of pent-up frustrations coming out, as she asks questions like “What are girls for?” that stop the men in their tracks. For once, it feels like she has the power, and the men are the ones scared for their lives.

Anna Kendrick Becomes an Exciting New Filmmaker to Watch

Image by Annamaria Ward

But maybe most impressive about Woman of the Hour is Kendrick’s handling of this story, written by Ian MacAlliser McDonald. Woman of the Hour turns this story of a serial killer into a cautionary tale about not trusting women. Some aspects of this aren’t as smooth as others, as with Nicolette Robinson’s character Laura, who is at the taping of The Dating Game and recognizes Alcala, but feels like an amalgamation of countless women who warned about the killer. While it’s a bit clunky, it still largely works for Kendrick and McDonald’s thematic purposes, and never feels overly heavy-handed.

With her first film as director, Kendrick also proves herself to be an exciting new talent behind the camera. Given the nature of Woman of the Hour, she’s able to present herself as fully proficient at playing up the awkward pressure of a rom-com, the rapid-fire comedy of The Dating Game segments, and the sheer nightmare of the serial killer attacks. Kendrick is great at building the tension as we flash back and forth through time to see the crimes of Alcala, and when he and Cheryl are finally left alone together, Kendrick uses the large, empty spaces of a parking lot and the frame of the camera itself to create one of the most uneasy moments in the entire film.

Woman of the Hour is a solid debut from Kendrick, and her ability to explore multiple genres—many of which seem surprising for the actress—build tension through her skilled direction. Her strengths bring this fascinating true-to-life story to the screen and make for one of the most intriguing directorial debuts this year. Woman of the Hour is a tight, smartly handled thriller that may stumble at times with its thematic ideas, but wins you over with its deft handling behind the camera. If this is only Kendrick’s first try as director, it’ll be very exciting to see what she does next.

Rating: B

The Big Picture

  • Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut, Woman of the Hour, is a tense, funny, and dark serial killer drama-comedy that showcases her potential as a director.
  • The film explores the true story of serial killer Rodney Alcala and highlights the disposable treatment of women during that time period.
  • Kendrick skillfully builds tension, handles multiple genres, and brings a fascinating true-life story to the screen, making Woman of the Hour an intriguing directorial debut.

Woman of the Hour had its World Premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. It does not yet have a release date.

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