Things are getting hazier now. Am I watching the films, or are the films watching me? Or…am I the films? Enrique is telling me not to worry…but he’s just a bass. What does he know. I think I’m going to watch some movies now. I hope I make it back.
This has been a banner year for depressing, transgressive genre films about lonely people whose bodies are falling apart hasn’t it? Ok, well, there’ve been two, first The Weight and now Halley, a Spanish language film about Beto, a security guard at an all-night gym who died long ago, but keeps on living. The festival write-up describes him as a zombie, which isn’t quite right. He doesn’t crave flesh or brains, in brazen defiance of zombie tradition, and his vocabulary, while rarely used, goes well beyond moans and groans. So no, I wouldn’t call this a zombie movie, or at the very least, a very VERY different kind of zombie movie.
At its core, what this really is is a movie about depression, something the film captures with alarming accuracy. There’s a crushing, numbing stillness to being depressed, a quietness that permeates almost every moment of your life, and Halley has bottled it and spends its entire run time dumping it over your head like you just won the Stanley Cup. There are these completely quiet, intensely clinical scenes of Beto painstakingly maintaining his body, with no music or narration or anything, just incredibly uncomfortable sound effects and an atmosphere of pure loneliness. It’s like Jeanne Dielman, if Jeanne had to routinely sew a massive hole in her torso shut.
I -was- ready to call it one of the best movies of the fest….until the ending, which strays a bit too far into body-horror territory, and prompted somewhat understandable giggles from the audience. Then there’s this weird, Antarctic epilogue thing that mostly just feels like an excuse for the director to practice his landscape photography.
Iffy ending aside, Halley is still a really good movie though, if only because it captures the state of depression with such alarming accuracy, and star Alberto Trujillo (Who I can be seen photobombing both here and here) does an amazing job.
Alongside “Guy kills people” and “Oh shit, monster!”, “Technology is scary” is one of the most well-worn tropes in the horror genre’s arsenal, to the point that there’s some kind of Whoopi Goldberg, throwing a hotdog down a hallway joke to be made about it.
The idea’s dirt simple, really. Take some ubiquitous, still kinda scary to some people form of technology and have scary shit come out of it. Radioactive energy, TVs, cassette tapes, cell phones, computers, prettymuch every important technological development that isn’t something only scientists or doctors care about has had a space monster or a scary japanese girl crawl out of it at some point, and now social media sites are getting their turn with Antisocial, a film in which a rage virus spreads through a subliminal message embedded in a popular not-Facebook site.
But what sorta kills the movie, besides the insanely atrocious acting, is just how damn clever it seems to think it is. After the big reveal, a reveal which anyone who’s been paying any attention figured out ages ago, the movie just sorta crosses its arms and says “Well, that’s what I got. Ain’t I clever?” and doesn’t bloody DO anything with it. Ok, you’ve got your hook, now take me somewhere interesting with it, besides the usual body-horror fare.
And really, is it all that clever? As we covered, having scary shit come out of technology isn’t a new idea, and updating the mold to include social media isn’t really anything new or innovative, it’s just taking an old formula and switching out the technological element to whatever’s current. Somebody was BOUND to do this eventually, it’s not like this is some unexpected turn.
Add to that the fact that the movie blithely jumps through every horror/infection movie hoop imaginable, including that good ole scene where someone’s clearly infected, but some inept monkey keeps shouting “We don’t know he’s infected!!” in the face of reason and original scriptwriting, and that fucking horrendous acting, and this is one of the few movies I’ve seen this year that’s better off skipped all together.
Experimental Film. Ya either get it, or ya don’t get it. It’s either some transcendent moment of understanding and interpretation, or you just sit there with a dumb look on your face. And while I’m sure Go Down Death will probably make sense to some people, for my part it feels more masturbatory than revelatory.
The film is a series of vignettes and disjointed scenes, seemingly taking place in some southern town during the Civil War (?) and focusing on the myriad strange characters who live there. The whole thing is steeped in the kind of jug-band, livestock-fornicating “Americana” that means that the director probably thinks suspenders and buck teeth are just hunkey-dorey. And David Lynch. Clearly a Lynch fan here.
Scenes will ramble on without a point and end abruptly, characters will talk at each other but not really interact, the whole thing’s shot on artsy black and white 16mm, and the end is this weird, modern dress scene of attractive white late 20-somethings having a dinner party and being generally awful.
So there’s a lot to be cynical about, but Go Down Death isn’t totally without merit. Some of the scenes have a decent atmosphere and are held aloft mostly by some good performances. It is rather well-shot, and even if he didn’t quite get it across, the director was clearly trying to go for….something, and I’d take a failed attempt at auteurism over a cookie-cutter, shallow assembly line film, even if it means the end product is an hour and a half of oblique wankery.