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TIFF 2023: “Woman of the Hour”


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Whether we accept it or not, in virtually any profession, men tend to receive preferential treatment over women. Despite the #METOO movement and ongoing efforts for equality and diversity, the situation can seem rather murky and surreal, as though there’s an attempt to temporarily appease everyone before reverting to the same old biases. Sexism remains a significant issue. Just recently in Toronto, a woman tragically lost her life at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, despite having reached out to the police to report him and expressing her fears that he might harm her. Tragically, her pleas were dismissed, and she met a terrible fate. Victims often find themselves without rights or a voice to articulate their fears, while a charming perpetrator skilled in persuasion can effortlessly convince others of their innocence. However, what transpires behind closed doors, and the abrupt transformation from a pleasant facade to malevolence, often goes unnoticed.

Set in the 1970s, the film revolves around the struggles of Cheryl Bradshaw, a budding actress who heeds her agent’s advice to appear on the popular LIVE TV show “The Dating Game,” where she must choose one man from among three contestants. Rodney Alcala, a serial rapist-killer, is one of these contestants, adept at providing just the right answers to win over the audience. Despite one audience member recognizing him as a potential murderer, her plea for attention to Alcala’s dark side goes unheard. As the show continues with its random questions, Alcala continues his killing spree with ease.

I must emphasize that “Woman of the Hour” is the most captivating, shocking, and unsettling true-crime thriller that will shake you to your core. Screenwriter Ian MacAllister McDonald skillfully crafts a compelling screenplay that allows the actors to fully embody their characters. Anna Kendrick takes on a dual role as the film’s director and the leading star, delivering a brilliant portrayal of Cheryl Bradshaw, a woman who might unwittingly choose Alcala as her dating partner. Cheryl is not just any woman seeking a pleasant and handsome companion. She is intelligent, unafraid to think outside the box, and, like everyone else, striving to find her place in the world. Importantly, she is not deceived by Alcala’s outward appearance.

Every story strives to earn recognition from its broad audience. But Kendrick’s film goes beyond that. The moment you meet Alcala, thanks to Daniel Zovatto’s incredible performance, he ensures that the evil is portrayed the way it should be. His performance is so nuanced, sometimes it’s scary to even watch him. But the conclusion of the film belongs to Autumn Best, who portrays a young teen running away from her family. She meets Alcala. She is young and naive. She thinks the man will take a picture of her, and maybe, she will become famous. And she will, of course. But not in the way she expected.

We don’t know what would have happened to her next if she had not asked the following question after regaining consciousness: “Are you alright?” It’s as if it were not her who was attacked but him. She asks him a minute later, “Please, do not tell anyone about this. I will be so embarrassed.” This is the moment that will haunt you forever. It’s the most heartbreaking thing to say, but perhaps the only one that might save time for survival. Nicolette Robinson was mesmerizing as a desperate woman who was the only one to recognize Alcala on the show. Sadly, no one cared, not even the police. And that’s where the problem lies. The one who is smart, good-looking, and outgoing is the one who wins people’s hearts. But that is just a mask that is always worn to deceive someone in public, while once the door is closed, it’s another heinous story we learn afterward.

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