top of page

Review: Anna Kendrick's Directorial Debut 'Woman of the Hour' is a True Crime Chiller

"I always get the girl."

There is nothing quite like an actor's directorial debut, especially when the film's premiere takes place at an international film festival. The anticipation to see if a performer's skill in front of the camera translates well from behind it. The script chosen, the casting of central characters, the lighting decisions, and the overall technique are all often picked apart by the attending audience. With ongoing strikes by the actors in 2023, it's understandable why an actor/director might not show up to their big premiere, even if they've probably been working on this passion project for several years.

This was the case for Academy Award-nominated actor Anna Kendrick, whose newest film, "Woman of the Hour," was unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival. No prestige accompanied the colossal event. Kendrick chose not to represent the film she's indeed poured her heart and soul into as she supports the ongoing strikes amongst her peers in the acting community. Nevertheless, Kendrick's presence was overwhelmingly felt by those who got the chance to watch her feature film directorial debut, and streamers took note. Just after the premiere of "Woman of the Hour," Netflix acquired the true crime drama for $11 million.

There are plenty of reasons why Netflix would do such a thing. Kendrick's newest flick, centering on real-life serial killer Rodney Alcala and his 1978 appearance on the television show "The Dating Game," is a stellar debut for what should hopefully be a long directing career for the "Pitch Perfect" standout. What makes this film different from similar actor/director debuts is that Kendrick takes a backseat and places herself in a supporting role rather than front and center. It's a fantastic decision given the complexities of the 45-year-old story, and one that hopefully won't get overlooked by streaming viewers.

The exploits, killings, and transient lifestyle of Rodney Alcala (played via a sublimely menacing turn from Daniel Zovatto) are explored in "Woman of the Hour." The amateur photographer is the focal point of this dark drama as the bold rapist and murderer targets his primarily female victims throughout the U.S. in the 1970s. The powerless objects of his wrath are often runaways, models, and homeless teenagers, while some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hardly leaves survivors, and his nomadic proclivities allow him to easily travel from place to place.

That is until the killer shows up on "The Dating Game" as one of the three unseen bachelors vying for a date with Cheryl Bradshaw (Kendrick), a tough-as-nails Los Angeles resident using her time in the spotlight as a way to jumpstart her acting career. Cheryl is prickly with those around her and challenges authority, especially regarding the show's chauvinistic host (Tony Hale). But "The Dating Game" sequences serve as a bit of comedic relief from the tension of the rest of the film, as director Kendrick uses her signature sardonic wit alongside writer Ian MacAllister McDonald's script to present a nonlinear approach to Alcala's killing sprees.

The film jumps around quite a bit, splicing scenes from "The Dating Game" in with flashbacks of Alcala choosing his victims and murdering them without a second's thought. Kendrick's direction is rigid and plays with structure in these moments. She creates monumental intensity and constructs the tone to keep the suspense shifting from Cheryl's point of view to that of Alcala's. After all, this is a premise where a real-life serial killer has the gall to go on a nationally televised dating show to pick his next victim—showing his face and letting the world see him up close and personal. It's obscene, ridiculous, and altogether intriguing.

The dating show angle is just one part of an overarching story. "Woman of the Hour" starts as a true crime drama but evolves into a statement on sexism. It evokes a conversation about not believing women about their experiences, much like the #MeToo movement confronted the harsh realities of sexual harassment in the workplace. Here, this trend is prominently seen through the first-hand viewpoint of Laura (Nicolette Robinson), an audience member who recognizes Alcala while attending "The Dating Game" and seeks help from the show's security, only to be dismissed without action taken. Cheryl herself has doubts about Alcala's authenticity and trusts her gut in moments of fight or flight. In real life, it took many survivors to get the mass murderer arrested, and even that arrest didn't end his murderous tendencies.

"Woman of the Hour" is a chilling directorial debut for Anna Kendrick, mixed with a noteworthy tonal move that simplifies a fascinating story. The costumes, desert and in-studio locations, and 1970s looks make for a thrilling glance into a retro era known for its serial killer motif. The difference here is from the victims' point of view, mainly consisting of young women who didn't deserve to become famous after their horrific deaths.

It's a dark tale of survival and strength, starring a villain focused on wreaking havoc. On the surface, it's a pop culture feast for those interested in the unhealthy blend of entertainment television and true crime. In its soul, it's a film about standing up to the men who dared to silence women when they were at their most vulnerable.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟1/2


bottom of page