The Double Hour is an engaging thriller, although I’m forced to question its structure. The first act does exactly what it’s supposed to do, namely establish character, setting, and tone. The second act leads us down an ominous and winding path; the more bizarre and unexplainable the occurrences, the greater effect they have. The third act begins with an unexpected plot twist, and we’re forced to see the same story in an entirely different light. It has a curious side effect: It not only rewrites the entire second act, it also renders it completely unnecessary. This was no doubt the intended effect, and for that very reason, I’m not sure how to feel about the film as a whole. I was drawn in from the start, and I remained intrigued all throughout, but somehow — and you’ll forgive me for referencing a show that’s so five minutes ago — I feel as if I’ve been punked.
It tells the story of a Slovenian immigrant named Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport), who works as a chambermaid at an upscale hotel in Turin. In the opening scene, just as she prepares to clean a bathroom, she witnesses a guest — a young woman no older than twenty-five — jumping out the window and falling to her death. What this has to do with the rest of the film is not entirely clear to me, but don’t let that stop you from applying your own symbolic interpretations. Not long after, we find her at a speed-dating event, where, after enduring a number of highly inappropriate men, she meets an ex-cop named Guido (Filippo Timi). Ruggedly handsome yet embarrassingly unsuccessful with women (not at all helped by the fact that he’s a widower), he and Sonia hit it off. In due time, they drive to a multimillion-euro estate in the middle of the woods, where Guido works as a security guard. Their pleasant day takes a dark turn when a group of masked men break into the house and rob it of the owner’s collection of art.
Something else happens, although I don’t think I should say what. Sonia is traumatized by the event, physically and emotionally. Her work suffers. She takes notice of double hours, such as 14:14 (that’s 2:14 pm for those not familiar with military time). She sees and hears things that may or may not be there. People seem to gaze at her suspiciously, including an elderly priest (Giorigo Colangeli), a hotel guest named Bruno (Fausto Russo Alesi), the perpetually disappointed hotel manager (Lorenzo Gioielli), and eventually, even her best friend and fellow chambermaid Margherita (Antonia Truppo). Snippets of her past come back to haunt her, most notably her estrangement from her father.
She’s being followed by Guido’s friend and former colleague Dante (Michele Di Mauro), who questions her with the same tact of a dog that smells meat in the room. A photo surfaces of Guido and Sonia embracing, a Rio de Janeiro bridge in the background. This is odd — Sonia has never been to Rio. Has the picture been Photoshopped? At a crucial point, someone is drugged, taken to the middle of the woods, and buried in a shallow grave. What makes the scene extra frightening is that the burial is seen from the victim’s point of view. A nod to Edgar Allen Poe every once in a while is never a bad thing.
Short of me issuing a spoiler warning, I cannot describe any more of the plot. I instead must resort to being annoyingly vague. For a time, I was convinced the film would becoming a dark psychological thriller, where the sanity of the main character is called into question. The aforementioned plot twist made it clear that I was being misdirected — on purpose, I suppose. Essentially, the film is a romantic drama crossed with a crime caper. Once again, this leads me to wonder about the second act. As you’re watching it, it’s an effective example of low-key suspense, where something as innocuous as a lightbulb failure or a sudden unexplained thud can make the pulse quicken. Once the third act begins, our perception of the whole middle section drastically changes; what was once mysterious and frightening is now a perfunctory display of cinematic deception.
In all fairness to director Giuseppe Capotondi, he does give his deceit a sense of style. In many instances, he takes a Hitchcockian approach to the editing; the lighting, the camera angles, the pacing, and the intentional focus on a specific person, object, or image effectively build tension, and we have to wait long periods before its released. Still, I find it odd that he would go to these lengths when it ends up counting for nothing. We were led to believe that The Double Hour would be a cerebral thriller, one that could go anywhere and be anything; ultimately, it plays it safe, not only in the way it stays grounded in reality, but also in the way it sidesteps an emotional climax. This is by no means a bad movie, but with all the avenues it doesn’t explore, it is a disappointing one.