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TIFF 2023 Review: Woman of the Hour – “A confident, fearless directorial debut for Anna Kendrick”

Courtesy of TIFF

I am very glad that the premiere screening of Woman of the Hour let out in daylight hours, when the thought of walking home from the subway feels less threatening.  It’s a feeling first-time director Anna Kendrick captured with such effect that I found I had my jaw clenched through much of her tension-filled debut, a stranger-than-fiction true story. 

Kendrick deftly moves in a non-linear fashion through time as she shows the different victims of Rodney Alcala (played with great effect by Daniel Zovatto), a serial killer who raped and murdered multiple women through the 1970s.  She threads their stories through that of Cheryl Bradshaw’s (Kendrick, also starring), a struggling actress in Los Angeles.  On the advice of her agent who feels the opportunity will let Cheryl “be seen” she books an appearance on The Dating Game.  It’s here that she encounters Alcala, who is one of the three bachelors competing for a date with her.  

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A brief encounter was all this killer ever needed, turning on the charm, selecting women who found something they needed in him – help moving furniture, opportunity for a runaway, perceived emotional and intellectual intelligence for Cheryl.  An encounter is also all Kendrick needs to bring an intense unease to these scenes.  It’s the kind of sensation every woman has felt at one time or another, walking on their way home, in a parking garage, at a bar, in any number of scenarios.  As one of the make-up artists tells Cheryl during a commercial break, the question a woman needs to think about any man is, “How will you hurt me?”

There are so many of these moments in a smart script from Ian MacAllister McDonald that highlight the objectification of women and general environment of misogyny, especially amplified in this time period.  When Kendrick’s character is asked whether her appearance on The Dating Show really did make her feel seen she replies, “I felt looked at.”  Simple yet incredibly impactful.  

Unlike most films in the true crime genre, Kendrick decides to leave most of the violence off-screen.  There are glimpses of it that work to set the tone for the danger and menace Alcala truly poses, but the fact that we mostly don’t see these vicious acts means Woman of the Hour never feels exploitative.  Nevertheless, it still feels tense and uncomfortable, a testament to Kendrick’s vision.

Woman of the Hour is never about Alcala, it’s about the women themselves. Whether it’s Cheryl, who seems guilted into sleeping with her creepy neighbour, or Laura (Nicolette Robinson) whose ‘good guy’ boyfriend gaslights her when she recognizes Acala on The Dating Game, each woman has a story that explores aspects of gender dynamics in different ways.

Woman of the Hour is a confident, fearless directorial debut for Kendrick, full of bold choices, right down to the last frame.  It demonstrates that her talent undoubtedly extends behind the camera and will easily be a huge success at this festival.  Kendrick still gets to use her considerable charms in front of the camera, especially once Cheryl finds her voice.  But, what’s clear is that Kendrick has found her own voice, and I can’t wait to see what she tackles next.

Woman of the Hour had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival September 9, 2023.  For more information, head to

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One Comment

  1. I loved the movie!! It was so exciting and the acting was amazing!! I especially loved the acting of the young teenaged runaway!!! I hope we see lots more of her in the future!!

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