by ROCCO THOMPSON
A single location thriller that made its world premiere at Arrow Video Frightfest: Digital Edition, Francesco Giannini’s HALL is a pandemic nightmare to make us count our lucky stars. Set in a hotel ravaged by a deadly virus, a pregnant tourist (Yumiko Shaku) and a woman separated from her daughter (Carolina Bartczak) form an unlikely bond in a bid to avoid the infected and hopefully escape with their lives. With grotesque practical effects, an international cast, and a plot that hits awfully close to home, Giannini’s film is sure to spark a lot of buzz. The Quebec native sat down with Rue Morgue to discuss his career so far, what it was like working with actors who speak languages other than his own, and how HALL has taken on a new resonance in the COVID-19 era.
Can you tell us a bit about how the script for HALL took shape?
The original script came to me about three years ago from Adam Kolodny. I had worked with Derrick on a short film and we clicked, and when Adam approached us with the story of HALL, Derrick and I began working until we turned it into what is now. The topics of vaccines, flu shots, and government conspiracies have always fascinated me. I wanted to explore the question: what would happen if vaccines were created intentionally for purposes of government control and for the profit of the pharmaceutical industry, not necessarily to cure viruses? It was an interesting angle I hadn’t seen a lot, so we started there. I worked tirelessly with both writers. We managed to really bring out the best in each other.
One of your leads is popular Japanese star Yumiko Shaku. How did she become involved in the film and what was the thought process behind casting her?
Yumiko was an integral part in getting HALL made, because her team from Japan was also investing in the film and were instrumental in making the production happen. Not knowing how to speak Japanese, I was hesitant at first: questioning whether I would have a difficult time directing her. But, in the end, it was a great experience and she was an absolute pleasure to work with. It turned HALL into a multi-language film, which added a whole new dynamic to the narrative. Without Yumiko’s involvement, the film would not have the same impact. She was a warrior on set, giving her 100% on every scene to the point that I had to tell her to calm down and she wouldn’t listen! She had a fever at one point during production, exhaustion kicked in after five days, and yet there was still no quit in her, she kept going. Having Yumiko onboard on this film was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Not to take away from the other cast, they were all unbelievably great to work with and made the process so much easier for all of us.
This is your first feature-length film. How did your work in shorts prepare you for HALL, and were there any unique challenges?
A short film I made prior to this movie, called The Flare, was shot in 12 days. I think if I didn’t have that experience, HALL would have been an even bigger challenge than it already was. HALL was also shot in 12 days in a functioning hotel. We had to make sure that we wouldn’t conflict with paying clients or frustrate the administration and owners of the establishment. We managed to limit the room reservations on our specific floor since we shot during the slow season, but it was still very restrictive in terms of having the freedom to move around fluidly. We had to be extremely organized to be able to pull off our daily shooting schedule. In my opinion, making shorts is the best hands-on education and practice a filmmaker can ask for.
How did you approach the disease/makeup effects?
We wanted to keep it as real as possible. The smallest amount of CGI possible. This was an ode to the older horror films from the ’70s and ’80s that helped inspire my love of cinema. I’ve always wanted to show my appreciation, so we used our virus as a means to have fun and to push the limits of what we were capable of. It came out great!
What were your favorite parts of filming HALL?
Being able to sleep and shoot on location was a blessing in disguise. For our cast and crew, it was incredible. They would wake up, walk out of their rooms, and already be on set! A blessing for everyone, it made all of our lives much easier. We had the hotel buffet so our meals were taken care of as well. Not to mention that we shot during a grueling Montreal winter, so not having to travel at all helped us schedule ourselves even better. Everything was so convenient!
You were one of the co-directors credited on 2017’s Canuxploitation documentary, Tax Shelter Terrors. In your opinion, what sets Canadian horror apart from other regional genres?
Canadian horror has always seemed to maintain an almost cult status in the world of cinema and horror in general. They gave us David Cronenberg’s classics like Scanners and Videodrome, lots of practical effects, scream queens galore, and ridiculous concepts that still managed to scare the hell out of you and entertain from start to finish. Canada is always responsible for releasing horror movies that no one really knows, but once they see them, they can’t stop talking about them. By filming the documentary and meeting such legendary filmmakers, I was greatly inspired and realized that there have been so many great classic horror films made in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s while most would think these films were made in the USA.
HALL, of course, takes on a new sense of immediacy in the era of COVID-19. What does it feel like to have your work viewed in this light?
It’s surreal. No one could have guessed this. Certainly not us. We put this movie together almost two years ago. As filmmakers and storytellers, we always hope our stories come to life and feel prominent. The last thing we could have ever hoped for was an actual pandemic, but it further solidified my love and belief in the importance of art. I wish the circumstances were better, but at the end of the day, we’re making the best of the situation like everyone else!
What did having HALL featured as part of Frightfest’s Digital lineup mean to you?
Frightfest has always been on my radar. Of course, we wish we had the opportunity to all be there in person, but to have our movie premiering with Frightfest at all is an absolute honor and a dream come true for all of us. Everyone we’ve been in touch with has been so caring and nice, no wonder it’s one of the best and most respected genre festivals in the world!
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope audiences will see past the virus aspect of the film. HALL is a movie that touches on so much more than just a viral outbreak, and we hope audiences will connect to that. Abusive relationships are just as deadly as deadly viruses and if you are not cautious and attentive, they can contaminate you to the point of no return. I would also love for audiences to see past what they hear and witness on the news and have their own opinions and beliefs. Not everything is what it seems with the media, and we are allowed to question our institutions that govern us.