★★★★☆

Francesco Giannini’s chiller pits a mum and her young child in a fight for their lives after an airborne virus turns their hotel into a gauntlet of diseased, violent fellow occupants. The resulting saga delivers more on its generic-sounding scenario than meets the eye. 

With Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow and Rob Savage’s Host tapping into coronavirus fears, either fortuitously or by design, Canada’s Hall is another entry in what is likely to be a growing Covid-ploitation wave. For the most part, until a spectacularly ill-judged post-credits scene – which if the director has any sense whatsoever he will remove before it hits distribution – Giannini has crafted a riveting, at times teasingly-abstract apocalyptic nightmare primed by domestic violence horrors and psychological trauma.

Val (Carolina Bartczak), grumpy husband Brenden (Mark Gibson) and moppet Kelly (Bailey Thain) check into a hotel for the weekend. Straight off the bat, Brenden is established as a quick-to-temper sort, honking his car horn in anger at a pregnant Japanese tourist standing looking lost in the middle of the road with her suitcase. This is Naomi (Yumiko Skaku), a woman on the run from her own domestic troubles, who later strikes up a brief bond with Val, as they discuss motherhood and the travails of pregnancy.

The film’s creepy vibes are heightened tenfold by the claustrophobic environment of the hotel corridor and the room Val and her family occupy. The relationship, we soon learn, between mother and father is on a knife’s edge. Brenden is a tyrant, a bully, a physically aggressive man, who it is implied heavily smacks around both wife and child, then does the whole song and dance about being sorry and that he’s dealing with his issues. Then a sinister virus spreading in the community infects the occupants of the hotel, turning the men into homicidal freaks. Val must make her escape. Naomi is infected too and spends most of the film’s running time crawling on the floor, gasping for air, desperate to live for her unborn child.

But what’s really going on here? The film’s qualities shine through the performances (Bartczak is excellent) and its increasingly fraught, dreamlike metaphor, which turns an effective enough thriller into a poignant examination of finding the strength to leave a bad situation and a bad man. The film is especially noteworthy and prevalent as incidents of domestic violence have increased massively since lockdowns started. Suddenly, we find Hall is awash with symbolism, characters revealed as cyphers for horrible past and present events of abuse, and we’re inside the headspace of a traumatised woman and mother struggling to finally break free.

FrightFest runs from 28-31 August. Tickets are available at frightfest.co.uk.

Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio