As school shootings have proliferated in the 21st century, so too has art trying to grapple with them. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine approached the scourge from a documentary perspective, but many fiction films have followed, including 2021’s Mass. The latest to tackle the tough subject matter is the new film, The Desperate Hour.
Naomi Watts stars as Amy Carr, a widowed mother of two who’s still grieving her husband a year after his death. Both she and her son, Noah (Colton Gobbo), are obviously depressed, with Noah holing himself up in his room. Unable to motivate him to go to school on this particular day, Amy leaves to go for a run through the local forest.
The run is far from an escape, though, as Amy is constantly on the phone with everyone from her parents to her daughter’s elementary school to an auto body repair shop. Soon comes word that there has been a shooting at Noah’s school and, much to her surprise, that Noah had actually gone to school. Stuck in the wilderness far from town, Amy must make a desperate run to find out what has happened to her son.
The film, directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Chris Sparling, has a pulsating energy not only because Amy is living every parent’s nightmare, but also because she is running for most of the movie. It’s next-to-impossible not to empathize with Amy’s frantic dash and search for information, especially as Noyce and cinematographer John Brawley have the camera running alongside her, mirroring her bouncy movements.
Even during her frenetic journey, though, Amy is perhaps the most resourceful person under pressure one can imagine. The way she marshals the few resources she has to wrangle information out of people on the other side of the phone is impressive. There are a few times where the people with whom she’s talking seem a little too forthcoming, but given the extreme nature of the situation, the movie sells their over-sharing.
If the film fails to live up to its promise in its final section, it’s only because the main part is so intense. Sparling and Noyce make a couple of storytelling decisions that take the movie down a few notches, but not so much that they ruin the rest of the experience.
Watts has remained busy since her Best Actress nomination for 2012’s The Impossible, but in mostly supporting roles and TV series, lessening her visibility. She’s as impressive as ever here, running through the gamut of emotions effectively and believably. And it’s a good thing she’s up to the task, as the other actors get very little screen time.
No one wants to live through the experience of a school shooting, but The Desperate Hour proves that it’s possible to dramatize that type of event while still being respectful. It’s rare that showing someone running by herself is so gripping, but the filmmakers have shown how it can be done.
The Desperate Hour opens in select theaters, on digital, and on-demand on February 25.