It’s never established exactly how old the protagonist of The 11th Hour actually is, but it’s a safe bet that she’s at least 15 years younger than the actress playing her. At 61, Kim Basinger doesn’t look a day—or even an hour—over 50. The question of age is relevant here because her character is at a point where she’s being told that it’s simply impossible for her to conceive a baby. As the film opens, high-powered businesswoman Maria (Basinger) has suffered her eighth miscarriage in a decade, prompting her husband to start muttering ultimatums.
In another film, this could be the jumping-off point for a study of a relationship under stress, but director Anders Morgenthaler is determined to turn the material into a horror-show à la Repulsion—a portrait of a woman losing her grip on reality. Not only does Maria refuse to listen to her doctor or her partner, she also hears voices—a tiny little running monologue emanating from a glowing entity that comes to her in the middle of the night. The tension in the film comes from the ways that Maria’s tender fantasies of an unborn child pleading with her to be born bump up against the harsh realities of Europe’s black-market human trafficking rings. A last resort quickly takes on the shape of an obsessive quest.
Morgenthaler is not an austere filmmaker. He shoots The 11th Hour almost exclusively in tight, disorienting close-ups that emphasize Maria’s exhaustion and desperation, and he fixates on the ugliness of the rural Danish highways and back roads that deliver her toward her destiny. He’s also whipped up a highly symbolic helper figure in the form of Petit (Jordan Prentice), a heroin-addicted dwarf whose physical and emotional vulnerability turn him into a kind of child surrogate—even as he talks dirty about wanting to have sex with the impoverished, drugged-out prostitutes whose babies are being sold out from under their noses.
Beyond its basic structure as a road movie, The 11th Hour is primarily an exercise in dread: We know that something bad is going to happen to Petit and Maria, and there’s nothing for us to do but wait it out and wonder exactly how grotesque this fallout is going to be. Which, as it turns out, is pretty gosh-darned grotesque, although the director gets credit for keeping the very worst of it discreetly offscreen. The film is never quite convincing as either a critique of haves seeking to exploit have-nots or a case study of a woman at the mercy of her biological clock, but that’s not Basinger’s fault: She commits to the most unflattering aspects of the role and gives a tense, credible performance. By the time the film empties its inventory of shock tactics and reaches its (too calculated) ambiguous conclusion, we’re not sure if Maria deserves better, but it’s pretty clear that Basinger does.