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Halley
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by Jay Seaver

"Shame of the Living Dead."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Halley" will be classified a horror movie by many, what with it centering on a representative of the living dead, but in some ways its hold on that genre is just a couple of fingertips at the end of an outstretched arm. Filmmaker Sebastian Hofmann aims more toward tragedy than suspense, and to call this movie uneventful may overstate its excitement level by a fair amount. And yet, there's something hypnotic and engrossing about it.

Beto (Alberto Trujillo) works as a security guard in a Mexico City gym, but he tells his boss Silvia (Lourdes Trueba) that he's quitting due to health problems. She asks him to stay on another week, although maybe if she got a look at him when he was alone at home, she might have reconsidered: Beto's body is in an advanced state of decay, and he doesn't eat, instead feeding himself something via an IV. His shuffling walk is painful to watch - zombie-like, in fact.

All indications, in fact, are that Beto is a member of the living dead, but Hofmann isn't sharing the backstory about how he got that way, or whether there are others, or any of the mythology about how this works. There's a fair amount of time spent on how he gets through his day, but not in the sort of detail that explains things, and the bulk of his interactions with others are muted. There's little to know violence, and what suspense there is likely comes more from the audience's expectations of the genre than anything that is actually hinted at on-screen (everyone around Beto is eating, and he's a zombie... gotta be foreshadowing, right?).

Even though very little is happening slowly, it's hard to look away. For all that he has very few lines and does relatively little in the movie, what Alberto Trujillo does do is excellent. His stiff, shuffling, torturous gait says more about the way this character is suffering than any sort of exposition or dialog likely could, and he keeps managing to show it as worse. His face is a near-constant wince, and there's an obvious overtone of not just pain, but shame, in the way Beto says and doesn't say little. He does this while covered in prosthetic make-up effects, quite literally from head to toe in some scenes (the tech guys do a heck of a job), making the audience even more likely to wince when watching him.

Halley rests almost entirely on Beto's scarred back; there are only a couple other characters of much import. In fact, Silvia is off-screen for a large portion of the movie, though Lourdes Trueba works with what little time she has to make her an interesting individual. The other is an unnamed mortician played by Hugo Albores who displays some of the same curiosity as the audience when Beto crosses his path. IN a way, they both represent a sort of indifference toward the suffering that many likely share, even if they don't think of themselves that way. The former seems to like Beto but not enough to really notice how strange and bad his situation is; it's as much a reflection of her middle-aged own loneliness (despite seeming pleasant and attractive) as affection. The latter is curious, and says sympathetic things, but doesn't invest much empathy in Beto's troubles.

Not knowing anything about the state of health care in Mexico, I'm going to guess it's not good. And while I think Hofmann probably has a few opinions about the standard of care that influence Halley, its central thrust seems to be something more universal - that no matter how or how well society pays to get patients treatment, illness is isolating. People look or walk past Beto, neither he nor they address what his situation means, and there's a palpable sense of shame as he watches the gym members with their often cartoonishly exaggerated health work out, like his being sick is his fault. The climax offers just one more helping of degradation, shame, and misery.

That scene, rather than the kind of sweet one from which the film draws its name, typifies the themes and the feeling of "Halley" quite well: It's tragic, quiet, and held on-screen long enough that the viewer feels his or her instinct to look away kicking in. It's a slow, dark, quiet moment in a slow, dark, quiet movie, but done well enough that even those predisposed to ignore such things will find themselves more interested than they might have expected.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=24661&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/08/13 06:20:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Miami International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Miami International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2013 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

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