Hall (2020)

Hall first published by Through the Trees

Hall opens with the camera tilting down from a hotel room door to Naomi (Yumiko Shaku) sat against it in the corridor, rasping and struggling to breathe. The camera then pans to follow her point of view onto others similarly collapsed over the carpet, even as we see strange coloured veins spread unnaturally across her face. These people are clearly very unwell, reflecting back at us our collective anxieties about deadly infectious disease. The timing is impeccable, given that Francesco Giannini’s feature is enjoying its world première right in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Cut to just four hours earlier, and with the car radio reporting the spread of a “still unnamed and highly contagious airborne virus”, Val (Carolina Bartczak), her husband Branden (Mark Gibson) and their young daughter Kelly (Bailey Thain) nearly hit the  pregnant Naomi with their vehicle as they pull into the High Hotel’s car park in the wintry night. By coincidence, both Val’s family and Naomi will be staying on the same floor of the hotel, while a big fundraising gala takes place downstairs. Naomi and Val have something else in common too: the former has fled to Canada from Japan to escape the “bad man” who is father to her unborn baby girl; and the latter is planning to run away with Kelly from controlling, angry, violent Branden before his outbursts cause any more bruising or breakage. 

In other words, the outbreak that we know is about to hit runs in tandem with two separate but similar cases of toxic masculinity whose pernicious nature makes them a fitting corollary of the hidden yet destructive pathogen. “Nobody knows,” Val will say of the chaotic contagion on the third floor that has gone entirely unnoticed elsewhere in the hotel – but she may as well be describing the abuse that both she and Naomi have secretly been suffering at the hands of their male partners. This implicit parallelism between violent men and virulent disease is clinched by the revelation that the epidemic is in fact itself literally manmade, the product of an aptly toxic toxicologist (Julian Richings).

The rest of the film is an escape narrative, as Val’s attempt to get away from Branden becomes an increasingly surreal limping dash along the hallway outside while evading the infected, each affected in different ways by the weaponised ‘flu. Hall flirts with being a zombie film (‘rage’ is a common early symptom), while perhaps coming closer to David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry’s The Signal (2007) or Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (2008) in tracing, alongside the disease’s physical effects, its disorienting neuropathy. For here, patients who do not simply choke to death experience vivid, nightmarish hallucinations. 

Like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) blended with Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995), Hall bears witness to an infernal outbreak from an elevated Ground Zero. The only false note is a clumsy and entirely unnecessary post-credits coda that undoes much of the subtlety and subtext in what has preceded, and that would best be avoided like the plague. The rest of Giannini’s feature, however, is a tense, bleak corridor odyssey in which the human characters are not the only ones breaking out. For here, patriarchy itself is pandemic.

Strap: In Francesco Giannini’s epidemic thriller, toxic masculinity and a viral outbreak are booked into rooms on the same hotel floor.

Anton Bitel