REVIEW: Hall (FrightFest 2020)
Plot synopsis: ‘When a hotel hallway is ravaged by a dreadful airborne virus, pregnant Japanese runaway wife Naomi is tragically thrust into the fight of her life. After getting infected, she is forced to crawl her way through other helpless victims to escape. In the room next door to her is Val, a mother trapped in a toxic marriage, who must also navigate her way out of the hotel corridor, desperately looking for her young daughter Kelly. Will these two women avoid the debilitating sickness and get out alive?’
Ever since the Coronavirus virus broke out in December 2019 and quickly spread all over the world, I made a personal vow to myself that I would never watch or rewatch any film that is centred around a deadly human virus, such as Contagion, Outbreak or Twelve Monkeys, as they are all frighteningly and realistically too close to home right now. However, after reading the synopsis for the first time when browsing through the schedule for FrightFest, this sounded like a film that was just too good to pass up on; no matter how scarily close to real life it seemed.
The way the plot was described, I visualised that this would be another fast and frenetic horror, not too dissimilar to Train To Busan; another big crowd pleaser at FrightFest in 2016. In fact, Hall decides to go in the complete opposite direction, leaving its mark as a really effective and well-paced slow-burner. A slow-burning horror film can sometimes be difficult to pull off, especially if the writing and direction isn’t strong, but that definitely isn’t the case here. I think if it wasn’t for the strength of these things, I would have lost patience with this film within the first 15 minutes or so. However in a refreshing turn of events, it had me gripped, and the production value overall is absolutely superb.
It makes great use of it’s restrictive single location, a device that has worked well in other successful movies over the last two decades, namely Panic Room, The Raid and Ex Machina. It’s also very well acted by everyone involved, particularly the heavily pregnant Japanese runaway played by Yumiko Shaku. The thing that really stands out in this film though is the incredible special effects and make-up. You can instantly tell from the opening scene that this film had a decent budget (a lot of the films on the FrightFest bill are quite low-budget), and it took pride in it’s technically brilliant camera work as well. I was made to feel really convinced as a viewer that so many of these helpless characters trapped in this hotel together really were infected by a dangerously contagious virus. No sign of appropriate PPE or hand-sanitiser here!
You never get to find out how this airborne disease broke out, and if this hotel was the first place for it to get unleashed before spreading anywhere else, but I don’t think an explanation or more background detail is necessary here. It’s actually a lot more interesting not knowing the origins of where it came from and how it will affect it’s unknowing and unprepared human victims. That ambiguity is just one great aspect, that really ties into the impending doom and claustrophobic terror. When the film decides to delve further in and explore how both the leading female protagonists came to be in the same hotel in the first place was also handled remarkably well, and juxtaposed nicely with the scenes of carnage within the hotel. Trapped in a literal sense in the hotel once the outbreak occurred, they were similarly “trapped” by the circumstances that life had dealt them.
I know this film won’t work for everyone and I can understand why, mainly due to it’s slow pacing and perhaps not delivering an ultimately satisfying pay-off in the end, however it really worked for me. This film dealt with a lot of interesting themes, showing great promise from its writer and director. I would certainly be interested to see what Francesco Giannini comes up with next based on this.