The Desperate Hour

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The Desperate Hour brings together an accomplished director and an actress with two Oscar nominations for a story that's in monumentally bad taste. They didn't mean for it to be in bad taste. No, the tone of this movie is very serious. It truly believes it's saying something profound. That's part of what makes it so difficult to watch. A pervasive sense of cluelessness completely overshadows any good intentions.

Amy Carr (Naomi Watts) begins what she thinks will be a normal day. Depressed, moody teenage son Noah (Colton Gobbo) won't get out of bed. Rather than forcing him, she goes for her daily jog several miles into the woods. While out there, a cell phone alert goes off, informing her that the local high school is on lockdown due to a shooting. Then she learns that Noah got up and went to school after all. Unsure if he's okay or not, she begins the process of frantically running back home.

School shootings are an almost impossible topic to deal with onscreen. Few things in life are as tragic, so a fictional film attempting to address them is starting off on shaky ground. For a short time, The Desperate Hour is just monotonous. A good half-hour of time is devoted to watching Amy running through the woods in a panic, calling various people to get information about what's happening. That becomes visually dull after a few minutes.

Things really start to go wrong when the story implies that Noah might be the shooter, not a potential victim. Rather than being asked to empathize with the kids who have been shot, we're asked to empathize with Amy as she faces the possibility that her son is a killer. Making a movie about a parent grappling with the unconscionable actions of their teenager is totally possible, but in this case, there's no depth. Without knowing more about him and/or Amy's relationship with him, it's just exploitation.

The Desperate Hour goes totally off the rails in the third act. The plot becomes pitifully contrived, with all kinds of preposterous occurrences that feel sordid rubbing up against the seriousness of the subject matter. (Would a school shooter really stop to answer their cell phone?) Amy is conveniently positioned to be the only person who can possibly prevent the scenario from getting worse. Once more, the horrific reality of school shootings is merely a pretense to create suspense. Using dead teenagers to turn this woman into a hero left a bad taste in my mouth.

Once the contrivances stop, The Desperate Hour resorts to flat-out manipulation. The story toys with whether or not Noah is dead, leading to scenes of Amy in deep anguish. Even at just 84 minutes, the movie's non-stop use of school shootings to elicit cheap thrills and easy emotion is grating in its offensiveness.

Naomi Watts is one of the few actresses with the magnetism and talent to pull off a role like this. She does what she can. The screenplay has nothing to say about mental health, lack of gun control, or any of the other elements that fuel school-related violence. Tragedies like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland are trivialized for the sake of making an “exciting” movie. Nothing about school shootings is exciting. They are horrific, sad events. They should not be fodder for slick entertainment.


out of four

The Desperate Hour is rated PG-13 for thematic content and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.