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Review: Hall (2020)

Hall, the debut feature from director Francesco Giannini and co-writers Derrick Adams and Adam Kolodny mixes the twin plagues of a lethal virus and domestic violence, adds a warning about the media and the government, and lets them loose in a hotel corridor. The result is a claustrophobic thriller that doesn’t live up to its potential, in part because of the messages it tries to impart.

Val (Carolina Bartczak, Brick Mansions), her husband Brenden (Mark Gibson, Creep Nation, Hellmouth) and their daughter Kelly (Bailey Thain) are staying at a hotel. We already know Brendan has a temper, as we’ve seen him go off at Naomi (Yumiko Skaku, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.). We soon have reason to believe he’s violent, and possibly worse, towards his wife and daughter as well.

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Naomi, who is very pregnant, has come to the US to escape the abusive father of her child-to-be. Instead, she’s found something worse. A viral infection is spreading on the floor of the hotel the two women are on. Separated from her daughter, Val struggles to find her while Naomi tries to escape and save herself and her unborn child.

While not a lot happens, the scenes in the hall have a sense of claustrophobia and dread. Watching the two women try to escape builds some genuine tension. The makeup on the victims is simple but effective, and I kept waiting for them to rise up like zombies. In keeping with one of the film’s themes, male victims do show increased violent behaviour. But they seem to die off just the same, rather than being an ongoing threat.

An abusive relationship is similar to a pandemic, if you don’t stop it or contain it, it could overpower you and maybe kill you.

Francesco Giannini

The analogy between domestic violence and the disease is handled with enough subtlety to not be intrusive while still being noticeable. It breaks the victim’s spirit down and destroys them the same way the disease destroys their bodies. It’s also possible to miss it entirely and the film not seem any different.

If he’d taken the same light touch with his other message, Hall would have been much better off. In an interview with Rue Morgue Giannini said “I would also love for audiences to see past what they hear and witness on the news and have their own opinions and beliefs. Not everything is what it seems with the media, and we are allowed to question our institutions that govern us.” That’s a message that needed to be delivered subtly to avoid looking like a hysterical tin foil hatter. Hall isn’t particularly subtle.

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The virus is man made, and Julian (Julian Richings, The Witch, Anything for Jackson), the man who made it, is in the hotel. He’s overseeing its effects and talking on the phone about targeting hospitals and airports next. And, as we eventually learn, it’s all an inside job by the government.

The idea I’m sure was for the film to come off like Rec as directed by David Cronenberg, but it misses the mark. Cronenberg can pull off his plots because of his incredible talent combined with the amount of action he tossed at viewers. Hall ends up resembling one of those YouTube videos “proving” COVID-19 is an evil plot by the Chinese/Americans/Global Elite/Lizard People. There’s even a post-credits sequence featuring an Alex Jones style commentator to make it more obvious who we’re supposed to trust.

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If it wasn’t for that, I’d recommend Hall. It gets a lot of things right and oozes atmosphere even if there isn’t much in the way of action. If you’re into conspiracy theories, or at least don’t mind them, then, obviously, you’ll like this more than I did. I just got sick of being hit over the head with it.

Hall had its world premiere at this year’s FrightFest and will play at Blood in the Snow next. You can check the film’s website or Facebook page for details and future dates.

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