The zombie genre has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, what with all the TV and film projects emerging from the grave. With Halley, Mexican director Sebastian Hofmann might have just ushered in a new era of zombie films – except this time they’re not quite dead yet. This unusual body horror follows loner Beto, a gym security guard, who realises that his body is steadily decaying before his own eyes. Approaching the grisly subject with an abstract, arty aesthetic, Halley is a must for fans of David Cronenberg.
The script, written by Hofmann and Julio Chavezmontes, is rather lean. Beto, in his 30’s, nerdy and rather creepy, decides to quit his job at the gym, informing his lonely boss Luly that his ‘illness’ is ruining his work. It doesn’t help that the toned, machismo gym members provide a painful contrast with his own dwindling health. Back at home, Beto tends to the boils and wounds peppered all over his body. He is literally seeping. In order to fight it he injects himself with embalming fluid, which he combines with his TV watching. He is dragged to the local church to hear the preachers talk about illness as a sign of sin; Beto is evidently unimpressed.
The only form of redemption in his life comes from Luly, who tries to take him out dancing. Lonely herself, their staccato dialogue and Beto’s frigidity will leave the viewer excruciated. The two performances are both strong, although Beto himself doesn’t have much to do. Alberto Trujillo’s performance as Beto brings to mind Napoleon Dynamite if he was having an existential crisis, a stubbornly introspective turn that hardly endears him to the audience. Luly Trueba as the jaded boss injects the film with much needed warmth and openness.
Aesthetically the film is interesting; fellow native Carlos Reygadas comes to mind in the sterile, cloudy photography (it comes as no surprise to learn that Reygadas’ producers worked on this as well). Hofmann chooses to cut out the faces of many of his characters, creating an abstract, distanced portrayal. Much of Beto is seen from his disease-ridden back. Cronenberg would be delighted. The sound design also plays a big part, as every chew, tear, peel, spit and vomit is captured with uncomfortable accuracy. Unfortunately the film is let down by a script that doesn’t lead anywhere from the intriguing concept, leaving the audience dulled by the episodic, languid narrative.