Over the years, I've reviewed several films from Doug Phillips and Northern Iron Productions. A writer/director/actor/producer who segued into cinema later in life, Phillips tends to tackle grittier indie fare that is raw yet meaningful and often within the realm of faith-inspired works. This film, Zero Hour, was actually an early project of Phillips's that never found its way until distribution until Phillips decided to revisit the film including some updates in terms of scenes, editing, production, and taking advantage of technical advancements over the past 20 years. While the film still shows all the signs of being a low-budget indie, it's an engaging film to watch with one of Phillips's better performances as a major plus.
Zero Hour centers around Phillips's Mike McCoy, an aging Vietnam vet with no marketable skills other than marksmanshp that leads him down the road as a successful, admittedly atypical, hitman. After striking up an unusual friendship at a dingy roadside diner where he's biding time until his next hit, Mike comes face to face with his ever-increasing PTSD and the moral conflicts that are eating away at his soul.
Zero Hour is, at its essence, a faith-inspired film sending a message that it's never too late to make better decisions and give one's life to Christ. Realistically, Phillips also captures that the choices we make have consequences even if we decide to turn it all around. Zero Hour is honest yet possesses a hopeful heart.
Picked up by indie faith-based/family friendly streamer Christian Motion Network, a Roku channel, Zero Hour is not your usual faith-based project as it's definitely far more gritty and honest than most faith-based projects dare go and it's definitely too adult in its themes for a family movie night.
Phillips is strong here as McCoy, offering McCoy a Bronson-like slightness that makes his transformation over the course of the film that much more of an immersive experience. Phillips is matched nicely by Victoria Esher as Rachel, the unexpected friend who preaches a life of faith and lives it. The film's best moments are when the two share the screen and we can sense that something is changing inside McCoy.
It's always fun watching a filmmaker grow over the years and the same has been true with Phillips. While I admire some of the updates made here to make Zero Hour a better film, the film serves as a reminder that over the years the now 71-year-old Phillips has become a more assured, confident and skilled filmmaker. Cinematography, in particular, is lacking though there are a handful of scenes, mostly involving Phillips, that still definitely shine.
As is nearly always true of low-budget indies, the ensemble cast is considerably hit-and-miss and it wasn't particularly surprising when Phillips noted that a good majority of those involved with the film are no longer involved in the indie film community.
That said, I definitely have a fondness for passion projects like Zero Hour and love that Phillips was able to take possession of the film and give it the release it deserves. Phillips notes that he plans to release Zero Hour through mostly free streaming outlets like Christian Motion Network and others. It's a film he's long wanted to release and with no new projects on the horizon he really wanted this film to see the light of day. Much like Mike McCoy, this feels like unfinished business for Doug Phillips.
I'd regret not mentioning one mighty fine tune that plays over the opening credits, Kellie Lin Knotts's "When the Ground Shakes," a beautiful tune that also sets a nice tone for the film and what's to follow.
Zero Hour is an ideal view for those who can appreciate a lower-budgeted indie crime drama with strong moral convictions. While Phillips's script doesn't compromise on the life that McCoy lives, it also unflinchingly says it's never too late to make a better choice.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic