Panic Fest 2023: Blue Hour’s ideas are bigger than its stomach

Still Blue Hour 2 1

Courtesy image

This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023Read more from our film team here.

Blue Hour—which bears the subtitle The Disappearance of Nick Brandreth, presumably to distinguish it from the 10,000 other movies also called “Blue Hour” (not joking, look it up)—successfully keeps its central conceit under wraps in its marketing and its opening minutes. Aside from a tagline about “a true crime from another dimension,” there’s precious little to indicate that Daniel Bowhers’ Blue Hour is anything more than another in a long line of true crime mockumentaries, in this case, about a documentarian who is looking into her own father’s disappearance.

For its first act, that’s all Blue Hour is, complete with fake newscasts, mocked-up posters for the fictitious filmmaker’s other works—many of which will sound more than a little familiar to true crime aficionados—and a book cover for the novelization of her father’s disappearance. These scenes are effective on their own, but they also build steadily to the picture’s weirder ambitions, which don’t show up until we’re well and truly immersed in the true crime premise.

Nick Brandreth, the missing father in question, was also a professional photographer, or “manipulator of light,” as he was fond of describing it to his daughter. It isn’t until said daughter and her film crew go to the owner of the camera shop Nick frequented that the film’s real mystery begins to take shape. There, they find a trap camera, which has captured images of robed and hooded cultists arrayed around an inexplicable door in the woods.

Things get considerably weirder from there, addressing questions of physics and the nature of time itself. While the film’s answers to those questions aren’t always satisfying, and its final revelations bog everything down rather than sticking the landing, it’s always nice to go into a true crime mockumentary and instead get something with such big ideas, even if their conception exceeds their execution.

This isn’t to say that the execution of the rest of the film isn’t good. It’s moody and intriguing, with a score that complements the vibe. Where Blue Hour maybe shines the most, though, is in the spliced-in footage from faux old-timey newsreel-type programs. These moments deal with everything from the theory of relativity to how a trap camera works to filling in exposition about the film’s cult, complete with an interview with one of the members, whose face is blurred out and voice distorted in proper TV documentary style.

Of all the films I saw at Panic Fest this year, I might be the most conflicted about Blue Hour. Regardless of whether I liked it or found it more frustrating than satisfying, though, I appreciate it for tackling an interesting premise. More importantly, I respect it for folding that premise so completely into a more familiar narrative style. You have to appreciate the commitment to the bit, if nothing else.

Categories: Movies