The Wolf Hour

In this psychological thriller we find novelist June (Naomi Watts) in 1977 New York City during the blackout riots, barely staving off paranoia and writers’ block in her South Bronx apartment.

After a very brief Universal studio card with bridging audio—no micro-teaser here—right away we are introduced to the protagonist’s cloistered world through a series of shots the contrast heavily in aural perspective. First we’re inside a bowl of water, only to taken out with the buzzing of a shaver; an tinnitus-like shrill sound gradually overtakes the radio, the latter of which serves to ground the chaotic symphony of domestic sequestering on display.

This is only warmup, however, to the sequence to follow beginning at 0:42 with the apartment buzzer. A rollicking, subdued modern bass track is punctuated by the apartment buzzer, synchronized and made to feel as though it were part of the track—although, the buzzer’s timbral distinctiveness still sets it apart.

Thunder, dialogue, and FM radio voices intersect until about the 1:15 mark, when absolutely everything drops out and we hear silence. This is a relatively underused technique; we’ve talked about silence before with trailer campaigns such as that for 2017’s Tomb Raider. Here, it comes off not so much suspenseful as intimate, not dwelling so long as to make one uncomfortable—as, being creatures accustomed to a consistent battering of sounds in daily life, we are wont to feel.

This silence also serves as an aural palate cleanser, allowing for a renewed focus on the radio when it gets turned on at 1:19. Note how the music moves seamlessly from diegetic (played by the radio) to nondiegetic (moving back to its former position as the underlying soundtrack, beyond the world of the film) at 1:22.

Notice also how when it does return as the soundtrack, the apartment buzzer has joined it as a nondiegetic piece—as though it were merely an imaginative figment, as June might come to wonder or believe as she continues to lock herself away from the world. 

Over the next twenty or so seconds, a synth gradually ratchets up, bringing dramatic tension to the boiling point at 1:49, which cleverly brings the apartment buzzer back into shot. At this point, it isn’t really possible to know whether the buzzer sound we are hearing is in fact coupled to the object in shot, or not. This undoubtedly the point, allowing us to infer—and even empathize with—June’s mounting delusion.

The Wolf Hour reaches theatres later in 2019.

— Curtis Perry