In Hours, a New Orleans man (the late Paul Walker) must ride out Hurricane Katrina in a blacked-out hospital while simultaneously keeping his newborn daughter’s respirator running. The long wait for help to arrive is broken up into smaller increments by the respirator’s faulty back-up battery, which needs to be recharged with a hand-cranked generator every couple of minutes. One survival story splinters into dozens of tiny survival stories, with Walker’s character dashing around the hospital for supplies, timing himself with a wristwatch so he can get back in time to charge the battery.
Survival stories are ultimately stories about time—the one obstacle the survivor can’t overcome, but must instead endure—and Hours foregrounds this aspect of the genre, perhaps a little too bluntly. But take away the on-the-nose title and some half-hearted stabs at symbolism (Walker’s character’s name, Nolan, has to be pronounced with a Louisiana drawl for full quasi-metaphorical effect), and what’s left is a B-thriller of the “they don’t make ’em like they used to” variety.
Directed by Eric Heisserer— who wrote the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which was for some reason also called The Thing—Hours trades in the kind of techniques that distinguished resourceful genre filmmaking in the pre-handheld era. There are low angles aplenty, foreboding compositions heavy on negative space, and a small set continually shaped by shadows. In this tried-and-true visual framework, Nolan—the sole person on-screen for much of the movie—only needs to be relatable and physically credible, and Walker manages to do both. The role, one of his last, doesn’t exactly show hitherto untapped range, but instead feeds off of his established “hunky everyman” screen persona.
Though a screenwriter by profession, Heisserer proves to be more economical with style than storytelling. Like a few too many contemporary genre films, Hours suffers from flashbackitis, a chronic condition that leads filmmakers to believe that a tragic backstory will add gravitas. Periodically, Nolan lapses into shallow-focus, warm-tone recollections of his wife (Genesis Rodriguez), who died in childbirth. These scenes wrap an otherwise lean picture with unnecessary padding.