Fantastic Fest: Hail

A dead horse plumets to earth, its frame a flailing mass. Earth rushes to meet the once strong animal. It is a stark and haunting image of disconnected reality, a pain with an epicenter radiating from our host, Daniel.

Daniel (Daniel P. Jones) is a reformed convict, released back into society after serving a few years. His first order of business is to find Leanne, his old girlfriend,  and patch up their relationship. He stalks around town, wasting no time to re-align the life he once knew. She is located quickly, sweeping a moment of serenity into their lives.

They have been together on and off for years. They share the same birthday, same passions and are enveloped in the joy of being with each other.  As they embrace, a distant tranquility stirs in Daniel; isolation’s walls are confronted and he finds himself a man from the inside out in nature, with the nature of an inside man just below the surface.

To set his life straight Daniel looks for a job. He has the skills required but a criminal background and a failure to put his dentures in make him a hard sell. His toothless mouth pleads for a chance and when one is given he promises not to disappoint. Redemption is something to be found and earned, a philosophy his ex-con mind understands, but has difficulty focusing on.

Old vices return and soon he and Leanne are drinking, using drugs and stealing to get by. Coupled with addictions, the pair morphs into an unsteady duo, effortlessly in lover at one moment while volite the next. Their exchanges rise and fall in tumultuous waves that always break back leaving them tired and vulnerable. This is the foundation of their existence together.

One night after a spat, he returns to Leanne’s to find her with Anthony, an old friend of hers and a heroin dealer. Daniel is wary of the stranger, voices his concerns and is reassured that the man is just a friend, despite hints of prior history worn in their body language. Placing his trust in her, Daniel accepts the man. When morning arrives, it brings a change to everything he understands..

With a fraying tether, Daniel makes his own gravity. Years spent inside sweat from his pores. Fragments of his life stobe incoherently as time and space fall away, turning his body into a disintegrating vessel of rage and retribution.  Walls go back up and the horse continues to fall.

Hail is a film that hurts to watch. Its semi-autobiographical story, culled from real events from Jones’ life and those around him, plays with painful authenticity. It’s a slow gutting of broken bodies. Like watching a car roll down hill, gaining momentum before crashing violently into a wall. The wreckage: past, present and unforeseen, hangs on every expression and edit. Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson explores buried narrative by intercutting images like they were Daniel’s stream of consciousness. As he unravels so do we. At once he is relatable and revolting, wearing the most extreme qualities of humanity like a battered suit, keeping hidden the soft parts or whatever remains of them. Hail highlights the beauty in his chaos, even when there isn’t a lot of hope left.

The Upside: While the story is a steamroller of depression it does offer some fantastic imagery to meditate on.

The Downside: It’s a slow and rough ride that doesn’t let up.

On the Side: Daniel P. Jones and Leanne Campbell are parters in real life. Jones also helped establish the Plan B theatre company where talent is made up of reformed inmates.

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