H4Z4RD (2022)

H4Z4RD had its international première at FrightFest 2022

Noah Hazard (Dimitri ‘Vegas’ Thivaios) has three loves, and we meet the first of them in the opening scene of H4Z4RD. For at an Antwerp gas station, he carefully inserts a nozzle into the fill hole of his beloved gold-painted Lexus, pumping it full of premium unleaded, before he fetishistically cleans it inside and out. The car is in perfect order, but for a small crack in its windscreen that will, over the course of one long day, come to be an ever-expanding external signifier of Noah’s own unravelling, even if it is also key to his ultimate salvation. And if there is an undeniable sensual frisson to the way Noah solicitously rubs and scrubs his vehicle’s surfaces, all shown in intimate close-up, later another Lexus-lover will come to literalise and indeed consummate the strange sexual tension that can exist between man and car, turning ‘auto-erotic’ tropes from David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) or Julia Ducournau’s Titane (2021) into low comedy. Indeed, the vehicle’s key place in the purview of Noah’s life is expressed via an unusual conceit in the filmmaking, almost an ‘obstruction‘: every shot is taken from within the Lexus, ensuring that all the film’s events are confined to a car-centric perspective – until, that is, the very end, when Noah has finally been reborn a new man, and enabled to see a bigger picture.

Noah’s other loves are his salon-working girlfriend Lea (Jennifer Heylen) and their young daughter Zita (Mila Rooms) – but the two women in his life are well used to the way that he prioritises his car, forbidding his loved ones even to eat in it. Noah is essentially unemployed and cash-strapped, meaning that when he is not ferrying these two to and from work and school, he offers his driving skills to others in arrangements that tend not to be kosher. Today he is meeting his hard-rapping, intellectually challenged, fresh-out-of-jail cousin Carlos (Jeroen Perceval) for what he understands – and promises Lea – will be ‘just a little spin’, but soon finds himself picking up the disgusting Kludde (Frank Lammers) direct from the prison door, and then serving as lookout and getaway driver in a home burglary where the takings will turn out to be something more than mere cash. Under threat all at once from an aggressive bouncer (Sergej Lopouchanski), a perverse security guard (Tom Vermeir), a sociopathic, kidnap-happy pharmacologist (Monic Hendrickx), a bike-ridng, grenade-toting drug dealer (Rafik Bobo), a determined tunnel cop (Sarah Vandeursen), an angry betting agent, an escaped wolf and a Stygian ferryman (Gene Bervoets), Noah must race in his beloved, beleaguered and ever more broken vehicle to save not just his own but Zita’s life – and along the way to decide what he truly values, and what he is willing to leave behind.

Directed by Jonas Govaerts (Welp, aka Cub, 2014) and written by Trent Haaga, H4Z4RD is named for the vanity plate on Noah’s Lexus, for the rôle of risk and chance in what unfolds, and for the recurrence of the number four in Noah’s chaotic misadventures. With it episodic ‘missions’, underworld encounters and steadily increasing defiance of physical laws, this plays like a Belgian Grand Theft Auto. For it is in part a chase movie speeding along clear divisions of race and class, and in part an urban crime flick where the leafy suburbs are a dream – or a lot of luck – away, and in part a gross comedy whose jokes are only sometimes well-oiled. That bittiness is perhaps ok, though, in a film whose ‘carmic’ message is that to win big, you first have to lose everything…

strap: Jonas Govaerts’ Antwerp-set action comedy sends a feckless father on an urban odyssey of karmic carmageddon

© Anton Bitel