Hour of the Wolf is a 1968 psychological horror film directed by Ingmar Bergman. It follows the disappearance of a painter played by Max von Sydow and his wife’s reaction to his strange mannerisms leading up to and including the same.
First thing’s first- the acting in here is phenomenal. From the very start of the movie, Lizz Ullmann comes out swinging. Her constant aversion of the camera early on in the movie sets the tone of uncertainty. We never feel like we’re solidly in place and once a certain diary is read things start going off the deep end.
Bergman uses the angle of the camera and the environment to create visual effects that add to the uncertainty of the scenes. The faster and more dynamic movements during the “wilder” scenes makes the viewer constantly feel on edge if what they’re watching is real or a shared delusion with a character on screen. Several scenes like this happen through the movie and had me really questioning if something other-worldly was at foot.
On top of this, the use of long still shots on characters gives the viewer a real sense of what they’re thinking. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and I’ve never felt that more than when I saw the longing stares and faces. Whenever the camera lingers on a reaction or zooms in more, which happens just enough to keep it fresh each time, I felt a bigger and more urgent sense of suspense. When would the scene end? More importantly- what would follow? This leads into the reaction shots. There are a lot of moments where you want to see what the character is seeing but instead the shot lingers on their face, so you’re forced to kind of play a guessing game of what’s going on- which not only adds to the suspense, but also makes the reveal (or lack thereof) that much more shocking.
From a plot perspective, there’s a lot that’s being attempted and a lot of it is commendable. I like the stories attempts at looking at the kind of boundaries of love or what it means to love or go towards love. Looking at that and it’s interweaving with the story of an artist who slowly loses focus and is forced to choose between his supposed delusions or a reality with his wife.
In terms of problems I felt that the story could’ve used more grounding. I understand it’s supposed to feel abstract, but there are a lot of elements and relationships that are alluded to but their inclusions feel kind of rushed or undeserved. As a result the themes of the narrative feel lopsided and rushed at times. Pacing in the second half also feels a bit rushed and as such, the subsequent attempt to answer the question the movie raises feels out of place.
TLDR: Hour of the Wolf is a grand nightmarish trip and will make you question what is and isn’t real. Even though it suffers from some pacing issues in the second half and doesn’t quite reach the mark in answering its thematic issues, it’s a trip worth taking and has quite a few mesmerizing scenes.
Final Rating: 8.5/10. Please go watch the movie if you like psychological/thriller movies OR you want to see the slow psychological collapse of people driven crazy by love.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts.