Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Directors: Amil Courtin-Wilson
Stars:: Daniel P. Jones, Leanne Campbell
Running time: 104 minutes
In a perfect world, Australian filmmaker's Amil Courtin-Wilson devastatingly powerful Hail would be opening with a wide theatrical release next weekend; that way, it wouldn't feel so criminal to discuss the film in any detail whatsoever here. A heavyweight drama that switches narrative and tonal gears and hideously, though oh-so-beautifully, morphs into a ferocious psychological horror-show, actor Daniel P. Jones' semi-autobiographical movie is best experienced with little pre-screening knowledge—the only problem being, of course, that, outside of Fantastic Fest, the only people who'll be able see Hail anytime soon are those lucky folks living in Australia. So, consider this an ecstatic recommendation for a film that, hopefully, will get picked up by a distributor soon and hit theaters just as quickly. It's that damn good.
It's not a spoiler, however, to outline Hail's relatively simple story-line. Jones, whose real-life background provided the bulk of the script's happenings, plays Daniel, a hulking, grizzled, walking paradox of a man fresh out of prison and hoping to reconnect his world back together. At the center of his troubled universe is Leanne (Jones' real-life mate Leanne Campbell), a loving but nonetheless complex woman who's just as prone to bad vices as Daniel. Theirs is the kind of tumultuous but love-filled relationship where, at one moment, he's baking an elaborate cake for her, but, shortly after, she's verbally assaulting him inside a bar after he has a quick dance with another lady. Outside of Leanne, Daniel's post-jail existence isn't any less grueling; desperate to land a job and make an honest living for a change, he's constantly being rejected by managers before job interviews even begin.
Throughout Hail's naturalistic, dialogue-driven, seemingly improvised first half, Courtin-Wilson positions himself as an non-intrusive observer, chronicling Daniel's ups and downs with Leanne by simply following their every move, from the happy times to the agitated encounters. Out of nowhere, though, an old friend of Leanne's interferes, reintroduces her to another old companion of sorts, and unexpectedly sends Hail into a dark, nightmarish abyss.
Without any transitional signals, Courtin-Wilson abandons the casual approach and turns the film into the most cerebral and emotionally violent kind of art-house horror, externalizing Jones' fractured psyche and mounting rage in several disorienting ways: the sound design takes on a thunderstorm effect, extreme close-ups hone in on brutal violence, and, for lack of giving proper context here, the visual of a horse plunging to the ground gets looped over and over. That equestrian image is just one of Hail's many left-field and brilliant encapsulations of morality gone south.
Jones' performance, a balancing act of tough love and primal indignation, is a thing of shocking authenticity. As the story descends into utter madness, the actor strong-arms the viewer's nerves with a vice-grip-like hold, easing one into a state of unstable comfort during the character's happier times and inducing an acute paralysis once his world crashes down. Equally sympathetic and revolting, he's endlessly riveting and the perfect catalyst for a daring, fearless director like Courtin-Wilson to exercise his most guttural behind-the-lens instincts.
Manipulating what could have been a muted, somber character study into an uncontrollable cinematic beast, one that's on par with British director Simon Rumley's severely underrated 2010 stunner Red, White & Blue in more ways than one, Courtin-Wilson has created a death blow to the senses. And, if the stars align, the impact will felt by many in time.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)