Paul Walker stars in ‘Hours,’ a surprisingly safe and generic tale of a man who finds himself trapped in a hospital with his newborn infant daughter during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Written and directed by Eric Heisserer, ‘Hours’ follows Nolan (Walker), a man whose wife (Genesis Rodriguez) dies in childbirth, leaving him to care for his infant daughter, attached to a breathing machine for the first 48 hours of her life — which also happen to be the first 48 hours of Hurricane Katrina, one of our nation’s most tragic and horrifying disasters. And for all that natural tragedy and horror, the stakes in ‘Hours’ never feel tangible, and the threats never quite so imminent.
The bulk of the film places Paul Walker in an abandoned hospital, struggling to keep the generator running for his daughter’s breathing machine, which requires manual cranking every minute or so. But let’s rewind for a moment: the bulk of the film places Paul Walker in an abandoned hospital — Paul Walker, acting, by himself. He has the intonation of a former fraternity brother selling you a line of credit instead of an actor selling you an emotion. Walker is hardly convincing here as he talks to his daughter, a machine (really), and eventually a dog, sporadically unraveling in fits of frustration. The film suffers from monotonous pacing and redundant action, but Heisserer is intent on reminding you that this is New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, so he tosses in not one, but two instances of violent looters scavenging the hospital for food and supplies.
Aside from a horribly unconvincing doctor in the opening scene, the only other black people in the film are either violent refugees shooting at a helicopter from a roof (there are two in a group of about eight people), or a violent looter who almost takes out our leading man. Again, this is New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, and yet somehow there are only four black people, and three of them are dangerous.
‘Hours’ is the directorial debut for Heisserer, who previously wrote screenplays for the remakes of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ as well as the script for ‘Final Destination 5.’ He brings that same horror sensibility to the direction of ‘Hours,’ and while the intimate story of a man desperately trying to keep his infant daughter alive during a hurricane is indeed a horror story in its own right, the visual style hardly works in service of adding an extra dimension of intensity. Even when Heisserer gets a little creative during a sequence in which Walker shoots up with some adrenaline, the result looks like what we’ve come to expect from the types of generic horror films he previously wrote.
Genesis Rodriguez only shows up to die at the beginning and then again in flashbacks, as well as one peculiar sequence in which she appears as a vision and reminisces with her heroic husband. The scenes the two share so obviously belong in a mainstream romantic dramedy, and for a story this intimate, removing the action from the hospital in service of a flashback is a detriment — these scenes act as a valve to release the (albeit limited) pressure that’s been built up until those moments.
‘Hours’ is an uninspired and safe first feature from a director who’s spent his time writing uninspiring and unoriginal scripts for other directors. Add a terribly miscast Paul Walker, whom no one could take seriously unless he was working at a bar, and ‘Hours’ goes from a passable, decent, (but hardly thrilling) thriller to a film that gives your eye-rolling muscles a total workout.
‘Hours’ premiered at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival.