Among several New Frontier features offering more unattractive exposed flesh than one would wish (“Fat Shaker,” “Interior. Leather Bar.”), “Halley” might win this year’s Sundance Ick Award for most unpleasant graphic body imagery, its protagonist slowly rotting away from some unknown ailment. While there’s an apparent allegorical leap at pic’s end, many an open sore must be scrutinized before auds arrive there. Directed with elegant, clinical detachment by feature debutant Sebastian Hofmann, this simple yet enigmatic tale has slender commercial potential. But the likelihood of some critical appreciation and further fest bookings should whet curiosity for his next work.
Alberto (Alberto Trujillo) works security at a glossy Mexico City gym, where he’s surrounded by people bursting with health — or at least making an effort — while he’s a pale, gaunt, furtive specter barely able to function. The cause of his declining health is unclear (perhaps unknown); he says it seems like he’s always been exhausted. Living alone in a tchotchke-filled apartment that looks inherited from a late relative, he’s politely baffled by the amorous attentions of a vivacious boss (Lourdes Trueba) who finally arm-twists him into a sad, drunken date night.
At one point, Alberto collapses in public and is taken to a morgue whose attendant (Hugo Albores) is strangely unsurprised at his proving not quite dead after all. But then the pic’s ambiguity is such that auds are never quite sure Alberto isn’t already some kind of ghost stuck in the land of the living, which via Matias Penachino’s lensing, appears equally grotesque in its depiction of bodybuilding and eating as types of behavioral excess. A mysterious coda shot in the Arctic Circle raises metaphorical possibilities.
Spare and quiet in presentation — despite all disconcerting moments of bodily horror, all too well detailed by Adam Zoller’s makeup effects — “Halley” isn’t particularly satisfying as a narrative or character study, and the profundity or blankness of its meaning is entirely up to the viewer. Nevertheless, Hofmann demonstrates a confidence of vision, aesthetic and atmosphere duly bourne out by expert perfs and precise design contributions.