THE STORY – In 1978, serial killer Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game and won a date with bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw. At the time, Alcala had murdered five women, and his strange facade during the episode later nicknamed him “The Dating Game Killer.”
THE CAST – Anna Kendrick, Tony Hale, Daniel Zovatto & Nicolette Robinson
THE TEAM – Anna Kendrick (Director) & Ian MacAllister McDonald (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes
In the age of Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge, a disdain for modern dating is hardly uncommon. We mourn for the good old days, back when people actually met in person, looked each other in the eye, and asked each other questions about their lives in a sweet manner to get to know one another. However, were women actually safer back then? If not, are women any safer today compared to the past when it comes to meeting men?
In Anna Kendrick’s thrilling and impressive directorial debut “Woman of the Hour,” such questions play a central role in telling the disturbing true story of Rodney Alcala. Based on a true story, the film follows Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), a suave, long-haired, reasonably good-looking man who travels across the country in the 1970s with nothing but his charm and camera, seducing various women and conducting a vicious murder spree in the process. His trail of heinous murders leads him to the popular TV show “The Dating Game,” where, through the lax protocols of the time period, he somehow ends up as a contestant on the show.
Utilizing a duel timeline, the film flips between Alcala as he hunts women and evades the police and aspiring actress Cheryl Bradshaw, played by Kendrick. In a last-ditch effort for some on-screen exposure to boost her career, Cheryl agrees to be a contestant on “The Dating Game.” The show’s premise is simple enough: in each episode, a woman is presented with three unknown bachelors. With the men hidden from view, the woman asks them silly questions and eventually chooses a winner to go on an all-expenses-paid vacation with her. But as Cheryl’s makeup artist astutely notes during a taping break, it’s not about the questions. “It’s about the question behind the question,” she states. “What’s the question behind the question?” Cheryl asks. “Will you hurt me?” she matter-of-factly replies. With Alcala as Bachelor #3, “hurt” takes on a terrifying new meaning.
Kendrick has always been a vastly underrated actor. With her role in last year’s “Alice, Darling” and now with both her performance and direction in “Woman of the Hour,” it’s clear what kind of stories she wants to tell, and her considerable talent is on display like never before. Working with multiple storylines with contrasting tones, Kendrick seamlessly blends pitch-black comedy and thriller elements in a tightly told 89-minute film that moves with purpose and creeping dread.
“Women of the Hour” doesn’t shy away from Alcala or his atrocities – in fact, the film opens on one of his brutal kills and shows other examples throughout without overtipping into gratuitous territory. His murders of these helpless young women feel like a smack across the face, as the despicable nature of his actions seeps through every frame of this film, coloring it with a darkness that is unsettling but providing enough heart and resilience in the form of Kendrick’s Cheryl to never lose the audience into total despair.
Ian MacAllister McDonald’s screenplay is ripe with social commentary on gender dynamics, exploring how women go about encounters with mysterious men, fully aware of the ever-present potential violence simmering behind those encounters. While Kendrick has very specific mannerisms that often make their way into her characters, those quirks perfectly suit the character of Cheryl as she possesses a sort of bubbliness that’s quippy, feminine, and awkwardly endearing, making her an unlikely hero for the audience to root for. Those idiosyncrasies magnify her interactions with the male characters in the film – whether it’s a friend who makes an unwanted pass at her, how Tony Hale’s misogynistic game show host talks about Cheryl behind her back, or her chilling encounter with Alcala after filming on the game show wraps. Cheryl may be self-deprecating during these unnerving interactions, but what’s going on underneath the surface is clear for her character and what Kendrick wants to communicate to the audience.
In a whip-fast runtime, Kendrick asks the question, “How can women maintain their agency in the presence of men?” It’s a question she has explored in some of her acting roles, but she finally gets a chance to answer with this tremendous directorial debut. Times may be different, and how men interact with women may be better (or worse, depending on who you ask), but the threat women feel from men never goes away, and it takes having more women sitting in the director’s chair to communicate this feeling effectively to make women everywhere aware and ready to take action.