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The 11th Hour | Review

Sweet Child of Mine: Basinger Buoys Bizarre Psycho Drama

11th-hour-posterDanish director Anders Morgenthaler (Princess, 2006) returns with The 11th Hour, a strange, psychological drama with the kind of art-house sensibilities that could easily be mistaken for Eurotrash. A German-Danish co-production starring American actress Kim Basinger, there’s more bizarre elements on display than the simplistic yet frustratingly equivocal title can rightly handle.

Slight otherworldly elements and one woman’s insane quest for motherhood offer up an uneasy narrative many will either dismiss outright or react unkindly towards, at least as displayed in this consistently repellant universe. And yet, despite some distractions and flaws, Morgenthaler offers a unique portrait of hysterical motherhood. Though its heroine remains woefully superficial, defined completely by her consuming desire, Basinger is arresting in a film that seems oblivious to all elements audiences hold dear in these unnerving psychological studies.

Maria (Basinger), we learn the quiet, childlike whispers she’s been hearing belong to the dead child (or children) she’s painstakingly tried to bring into the world. Her husband Peter (Sebastian Schipper) isn’t interested in continuing to humor his wife’s obsession with having a baby, and the film opens upon her barely surviving yet another miscarriage. Clearly, Maria is a woman unhinged, as evidenced by her requesting a second opinion after her physician informs her that eight miscarriages have caused irreparable tissue damage. But she finds an unlikely resolution. She works for a German shipping company that’s recently been forced into re-organizing their routes due to a spike in child prostitution rings and black market babies the company’s presence has only helped flourish. Since her husband has all but left her, announcing more for the audience than her that he’s off to a meeting in Paris when she’s unable to engage him on another conversation about having children (it isn’t quite explained why adoption was never really an option for the couple), she heads for the border. Only, as she begins her journey (featuring another awkward conversation wherein she has to call a secretary to ask where the problematic prostitution was happening again, exactly), she realizes she may have trouble dealing with potential sellers. Spying a little person dressed in a panda costume at a truck stop hitchhiking, she offers the fellow a ride. Named Petit (Jordan Prentice), Maria offers him ten thousand euros for his help. Disgusted at her proposition to acquire a baby, he agrees, mostly because he’s a junkie in need of a fix. And so, they eventually stumble upon a likely candidate.

Though many will find The 11th Hour unlikeable, it’s certainly not forgettable. Premiering in 2014 at Fantastic Fest as I Am Here, the unfortunate re-titling seems to allude to Maria’s biological clock. Now in her sixties, yet still incredibly beautiful, Basinger seems a perverse casting choice. Over the past decade, she’s taken on several ambitious indie projects that don’t quite reach the heights of their ambitions (such as 2008’s laughable When She Was Out), and while The 11th Hour may be added to that heap, one can’t deny her unnerving performance here. As a woman having spent the last decade attempting to carry a child to term with only eight miscarriage to show for it, and the last one causing her to be diagnosed clinically dead for two minutes, her desperate actions are rather believable. Only, Morgenthaler sends her off on what plays out like a dark fairy tale without a clearly defined moral, including little people (the project was initially announced as being titled Petit), prostitution rings, and an ogre (Stormare, arguably), all the outlandishness sets the film up for expectations Morgenthaler isn’t interested in delivering.

Beginning in the womb as muffled voices echo through amniotic fluid, The 11th Hour starts out feeling like it’s on same if less reprehensible plane of Inside (2007). As intriguing as Basinger is, the narrative built around her is often disappointing, beginning with her convenient occupation inspiring her questionable actions. The heroin addicted little person Petit seems merely an object to further the film’s bizarre nature, especially with bits of obvious dialogue (“never trust a drug addict,” he tells us…two times) meant to explain Maria’s attraction to him. “You’re not afraid of me,” he observes. If his inclusion seems mildly exploitative, Morgenthaler’s continued use of the whispering child, visually represented early on as a small fairy light, gears the film as mildly fantastical.

What transpires after a pronouncedly violent finale is a graceful, haunting moment. It speaks to a certain arduous quality evident throughout a film littered with bits of distraction. But fans of offbeat curio pieces should definitely approach this with an open mind, because Basinger’s achingly broken mother is too good to dismiss entirely. Destined to languish in the shadows of forgotten, critically disdained cinema, the film’s fate seems unfair considering Morgenthaler and Basinger’s laudable risk taking, a rarity to be appreciated, not condemned.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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