On Halley (2012 movie)

Horror movies hold a niche, but cult-like status in this generation and there is a noticeable similarity in technique used among many, if not all: suspense. 2012 Spanish movie, Halley, is completely devoid of suspense, which calls into question its classification into horror in the first place. In addition, one might wonder if Halley can be classified as a psychological thriller, given that the protagonist, Alberto “Beto”, is actually dead throughout the film.

However, director Sebastián Hoffman never pulls a Shyamalan on us — it is never explicitly revealed that he is dead in the end, in the beginning, or…really anywhere. It’s quite difficult to explain the plot of Halley, mostly because there ceases to be one. Beto wants to quit his job as a security guard at a 24-hour gym because he’s “sick”. This is a failed attempt at dramatic irony as the audience members haven’t delved into the substance of the film to know he’s actually dead. Furthermore, the film drags on into the daily processes Beto engages in to keep himself from looking like a vital human, without showing a linear character progression.

But in many ways, the cinematography and its resulting symbolism and imagery strongly implies much of what is unspoken in the film, and that is, perhaps, the most beautiful aspect of it.

Beto clearly contrasts from the atmosphere of life around him. He’s a dead man, working in a 24-hour gym, where people engage solely to extend life. Hoffman intuitively showcases this contrast with the long stares from Beto at the individuals working out, or the bolstered sounds of breathing from all around him. Other shots show Beto with the same longing expression — on the bus when women are putting on bright makeup and the baby who is messily eating ice cream. The stark dichotomy between what Beto embodies (death) and the effervescence of life all around him would suggest the implicit (that Beto is dead) and is homage to the universal adage of English teachers — “show, don’t tell.” There are many other things that imply that Beto is dead — he routinely picks maggots off of his growing sores all around his body, inserts embalming liquid into his body via an IV drip as soon as he gets home from work, and at one point, ends up in a mortuary before ‘resurrecting’ to the pleasant surprise of the mortician. Beto is an very sad protagonist. We don’t root for him. We feel an insane amount of pity for him. The small glimmers of hope throughout the film for Beto are ultimately futile. Although this film tries to focus on the ‘unknown illness’ that Beto has contracted, its message isn’t derived from that. It is derived from after the fact — the purgatory between life and death that Beto tries to achieve. Two instances of hope, however bleak of hope they may be, emerge in the film, which is two too few, causing it to lack a sufficient story arc, and, in fact, plot line.

One instance is when Beto, coming back from a Church sermon, has to buy bandages from the pharmacy. He seems to be familiar with the pharmacist and lets out a chuckle in the middle of their conversation when the pharmacist starts dancing to the music nearby. One can observe the cinematic shift in atmosphere — moving from cool colors to warm colors. Beto goes home, and in his brief stint of happiness, tries to eat stacked pancakes. But Beto can’t eat (because he is dead), loses hope, and throws it all away. This was one of the two instances in which Beto confronts his own situation and tries for a better “life”. But ultimately, it is fruitless. Beto is stuck with his immortality.

The second instance during which this character progression is shortly after Beto falls for the 24-hour gym owner who invites him for a night out before he quits for good. In perhaps one of the most uncomfortable and bizarre scenes in the movie, Beto tries to masturbate the day after he spends time with her and castrates himself given his feeble body. It was foreshadowed in one of the beginning scenes:

biting of popsicle as phallic imagery

Hoffman makes the audience face this occurrence with a full-frontal shot of Beto after he’s given up with his attempts with tape and ends of sitting on the bathroom floor, looking into the void. It’s an incredibly sad and un-resolving scene that indicates that Beto’s situation hasn’t, and will never change: he must live in his death forever.

One of the defining factors that makes this film fairly significant is Hoffman’s attempts to confront the audience face-on with the grotesque nature of bodily deterioration. Certain scenes — such as where Beto takes off maggots from his body, or when his bloody sores cling to his shirt, or even when he spits out blood — make this film grotesque enough to be considered “alternative horror”, if anything. The close-up shots of these actions occurring are very visceral.

A cinematic cue I picked up on from the beginning was a particular imagery — red in a blue background. In several scenes, one can recognize that there is always something red within a blue surrounding, perhaps symbolic of the tiny bit of vitality left in Beto. Here are some shots:

The movie ends in a highly obscure manner — panning the glaciers and waters of the North Pole with Beto looking into the distance. It’s a highly interpretative ending, which could go anywhere from a narrative on global warming to the emptiness of death among the living. I laud Halley for its experimentation in the genre of horror and its impressive cinematography, but ultimately, I got close to nothing from it.

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