Hour of the Wolf review by Matt Fuerst


By the end of watching Hour of the Wolf I was very excited to write a review of it. Films like this was that pushed me to create this website. I wanted a place where, when I was excited about a relatively small, unknown film (yes, it's an Ingmar Bergman film, so it's not exactly unknown, but it's not Troy either) I could gush about it. My time has come. When the film faded to black, I could have started writing my review straight away, but I did two things I had never done before with any DVD ever: (1) I immediately turned the commentary on and started watching the film again, and (2) I went to deepdiscountdvd.com and bought myself a copy. Let's see what I thought was so great about this little horror masterpiece.

Johan (Exorcist's Max Von Sydow) and wife Alma (the very, very beautiful Liv Ullman) arrive at their remote island retreat for some peace and quiet. Their relationship has been strained as of late, with Johan not sleeping much complaining of terrors tormenting him at night. At first, it appears as though the remote locale has made a difference, as Johan is once again able to paint (being an artist) and feel creative. The release of anxiety compels Johan to share with Alma the truth of his experiences. Creatures have been visiting him, not only at night, but at all times. He shows Alma his sketchbook of the creatures and describes their traits. Unfortunately, the calm does not last long and Johan is again tormented by the creatures. Johan refuses to sleep at night, since he is certain that they will come for him in Vargtimmen - the Hour of the Wolf (which is the hour of 3 am, when most people die and babies are born).

Alma is understandably upset about the horrors her husband is going through. She knows he must be mentally disturbed with these visions, but everything changes when an old lady mysteriously appears before Alma while she's doing laundry. She claims she is 216 years old, or was that 76 years old, and that Johan must stop trying to fight "them". The Old Lady walks away and Alma is left confused. What is happening to her? Is she too going crazy? She begins to wonder aloud, does she love Johan so much, that she is taking on his thoughts, his personality and even his demons? Alma reads through Johan's diary to find even more disturbing events in Johan recent past. The only other sign of civilization on the island is a large castle. The people living in the castle seem to be tormenting Johan, at once inviting him to dinner and praising his work, and at the same time laughing at him and humiliating him. Are these people the incarnations of the creatures that are tormenting Johan? Johan is wary of their advances but at the same time accepts them. Alma is along for the ride as an innocent bystander.

Johan follows a descent into madness with Alma fighting with him, and for him, every step of the way. She desperately loves him and clings to him, yet is aware enough to realize he is deeply troubled. Will she herself be caught into the vortex of his madness and be sucked in along with him? The plot as I describe it follows Johan, but in truth this is Alma's movie. The film opens with a "Blair Witch" style opening, with placards reading that the entire story is true, and was taken from the diary of Johan. Then Alma walks out from the cabin and, talking to the camera, to us the audience, warns us of the story and asks if it is possible to love someone so much as to become one single entity? If she loved him less would she not have seen the demons as well? Alma, actress Liv Ullman, achieved what I consider to be the best acting I have ever seen. She has long monologues as bookends to the film, and both are captivating not only for what she is saying, but even moreso for how she is saying it. In the extras, Ullman in an interview says she is really only comfortable in front of a camera, since the camera doesn't interpret her expressions and mannerisms, it only captures them pure and without judgement. It's amazing in these monologues how naturally Alma presents her tale of woe, you can feel the pain that she felt knowing that her husband was gone and she took part in it.

This is my first Ingmar Bergman film, and it has left me in an interesting situation. I really feel as though this is the finest horror film I have ever seen, but it was Bergman's only attempt at the horror genre, so I wonder if I would appreciate his other work as much. What he does accomplish here is absolutely amazing. Bergman wrote the script and worked on it for over two years. It truly shows since it is a very refined story and tightly paced. However, working an infinite amount of years of pure energy wouldn't result in a similar quality script, since the ideas behind it seem so originally done. The filming methods mesh in so wonderfully with the story it's hard to share how exciting I found them. Bergman pulls out every stop that we are so used to these days: altering film stock, crazy lighting, altering film speed, playing with sound and heaps of expressionism. In spite of the fact that we've all seen these done before, Bergman makes them look original, and this movie was made almost 40 years ago!

The DVD is presented full frame (1.33:1) which is the original aspect ratio. It is shot in beautiful black and white that is really stunning. The framing and lighting is really stellar and adds so much to the movie. The original soundtrack is is Swedish, and English subtitles are your way of viewing the movie. I mentioned that I immediately started rewatching the film with the commentary on; Unfortunately I found the commentary to be very disappointing. The commentary is provided by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais. When I started the commentary I was hoping for one of two types of commentary: a look at the workings of the film on a shot by shot basis, or an interesting commentary on the life of Bergman, what this film meant for him, and how it fit into his overall work. Unfortunately I left unsatisfied on both fronts. Gervais likes to ask questions as the film progresses, to me they were the same questions that were popping into my head while watching it the first time, but then he offers no answers and no real ideas (listen, I don't want everything handed to me, but if you have an idea on a shot, let me know).

Hour of the Wolf has many elements you'll see from other movies, the plot can be viewed as similar to The Shining, with us watching a familiar in isolation descend into madness. However I found the workings of Hour to be even better than that of Kubrick's and an even more satisfying experience. It's a change from mainstream horror of today, but I have never seen anything as effective or as well done.

10 out of 10 Jackasses
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