Striking virus (not zombie) thriller set in a stylish hotel corridor. Blend of metaphor, conspiracy, and fabulous atmosphere create an effective experience.
Hall must surely be the bleakest and most creepily effective film of this year’s FrightFest so far. I’m afraid I was quite nauseous by the end of it. Whether that was because of anxiety from overall mood or the dual subject matters, I can’t say, but it has definitely had an impact.
Hall opens in a nice creepy way, with the camera low down to the floor: the walls of a hotel corridor are lined with people collapsed and clearly in very ill health. We then go back a few hours to meet some key characters.
Naomi (Yumiko Shaku) is an expectant mother, who appears to have run away from an unpleasant spouse. Val (Carolina Bartczak) should perhaps have left her husband by now, but they’re both currently staying in the hotel with their young daughter. And now, as well as escaping from toxic men, they also now need to escape from the toxic air of this hotel: a virus is spreading faster than people can walk.
There we have it: another film about women fleeing bad men and another film about a rampant virus. But you know it didn’t feel familiar at all while I was watching it: Hall is acted, directed, and shot with such quality and style (like Swallow perhaps). The pace is slow, so that we take time getting to know people winding down for the evening before they discover their plight. The set seems to be made of endless corridors and stairways (bringing to mind Isaac Ezban’s The Incident), as if the building is simply insisting that there is no escape. And the acting is simply spot-on across the board; I especially liked Bartczak in the scene where she tried to tell her husband that she wasn’t leaving, really.
I’m not sure whether it felt timely or tasteless to be watching Hall during a pandemic. I guess you can schedule a world premiere, but you cannot predict a health crisis. The timing certainly heightened the film’s effectiveness (though I can’t know what it would have been like to watch it for the first time in any other circumstances); not just in terms of the virus threat, but the issue of domestic violence too: many people have found life tougher than ever during the period of lockdown. I’m also not sure whether writer/director Francesco Giannini was making a point by coinciding the viral outbreak with abusive relationships: is he saying that abuse is insidious, inescapable? Or simply combining both subject matters for the sake of tension.
As well as Giannini, I must credit the pulsing soundtrack by Michael Vignola, and claustrophobic cinematography by Graham Guertin Santerre. (Something is telling me I appreciated Hall more than I first realized.) The only snag with the film was that there was not a great deal of plot: I found myself surprised when I got to the end that there was no more. Oh there was an epilogue midway into the credits, which puts the film into context via a television news broadcast; but not a great deal actually takes place within the hotel.
Then again, this is rather a short film, at 85 minutes. I hope we get to find out what Giannini can do with a bigger feature.