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H.
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by Jay Seaver

"Half-and-half."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2015: Movies like "H.", with its deliberately un-evocative title, unexplained strange events, and ostentatiously non-standard structure, can bring out my least favorite reaction to a movie - the urge to shoot that the emperor has no clothes and the audience is being played for suckers who don't want to admit that they can't see what's going on. Most of the time, I can see that there's some idea at play, even if I can't get at it because it's poorly thought out or expressed. That's where I stand with "H."; it's too well-executed to dismiss but far too messy to praise.

The film is broken up into chapters, with the first focusing on Roy Brajisky (Julian Gamble) and his wife Helen (Robin Bartlett), longtime residents of Troy, New York. They have been growing distant of late, especially with Helen becoming obsessed with her extremely realistic "reborn baby doll", which a number of older women in the area have purchased; they're meeting for a party at the Brajiskys' later. The second brings the focus to Alex Kovacs (Will Janowitz) and Helen Castro (Rebecca Dayan), artists expecting their first child, though Helen frets about Alex leaving her. Also located in Troy, they are on the front lines when strange things start happening in the city, perhaps related to the meteor that's been seen in the sky.

There's clearly something going on here - filmmakers Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia don't just give their female leads the same first name and motherhood-related stories that are even more parallel than they first appear randomly, after all. When Attieh & Garcia focus on those ideas, they really seem to be on to something; Helen Brajisky and her doll go from kind of funny to genuinely unnerving very quickly, and while the other couple's story relies more on the paranormal incidents to put the audience on edge, the dynamic between these controversy-courting artists facing a potentially more conventional life is potentially fascinating.

That material is good enough that the rest - eyes turning red, people staring at walls, gravity getting out of whack, and a large stone head that we see somehow floating down the river between segments - therefore seems like it must be significant, and maybe it is. The filmmakers neither opt to explain what's going on nor provide a strong resonance between the fantastic elements and the larger story, though, so the film can feel like it loses track of what it's about, with events seeming random even if the scenes are often nicely done individually. There's plenty of good material, but it's unfocused and therefore often frustrating.

The cast does a fair job with the material, though - Robin Bartlett is excellent as Helen Brajisky, giving her a sadness that doesn't need explanation even as it goes to darker, stranger places. Julian Gamble is a little more low-key as her husband Roy, but connects with the audience fairly well. Rebecca Dayan and Will Janowitz are closer to the same page as the artists, but they draw a good picture.

That can make "H." more frustrating than something that is obviously bad or emptily pretentious - there's clearly something there. That may not be a big problem for those who don't particularly care about a fantasy's particulars, but for some others, the random, unexplained nature of what's going on can sap the interest out of some otherwise intriguing material.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28275&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/03/15 08:01:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2015 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2015 AFI Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Denver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Denver Film Festival series, click here.

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