Hall is a small-scale film about a virus, and how it infects the guests at a hotel. The story follows Japanese runaway wife Naomi, who we meet crawling her way through a corridor of people dead or dying, and Val, a mother trapped in a toxic marriage. She tries to track down her daughter Kelly as folks start to show symptoms. So maybe not the best movie to take your mind off things, but still a stellar entry into this year’s FrightFest, where it receives its world premiere. The director, Francesco Giannini, is a talented guy – and generous enough to give HorrorCultFilms a preview screening plus an interview. During it, we discuss pandemics, domestic violence, casting and Cronenberg.
With this film being premiered amidst a global pandemic, is this good or bad timing for you?
It’s actually a complete coincidence that our film is coming out at the same time as this unfortunate crisis. I never thought that the fictional story we created would become a reflection of reality in such a short time between the release of the film and the current pandemic. No one could have guessed this. Certainly not us. We put this movie together almost two years ago. As a filmmaker and storyteller, we always hope our stories would come to life and feel prominent. The last thing we could have ever hoped for was an actual pandemic, but it further instilled my love and belief in the importance of art. Life imitates art, and art imitates life. 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 was your initial concept for the film? And did it change much during the writing?
The original script came to me about three years ago from Adam Kolodny. I immediately fell in love with the premise of shooting an entire film in one location, a hallway. Adam and I had trouble cracking the story, and we even went through nearly 15 drafts. It went from a ghost story to a serial killer thriller, to a zombie flick, and to any other crazy genre you can think of in-between. I had worked with Derrick on a short film and we clicked. We had a similar vision and I knew he could help us usher in a new idea. So, Adam approached us with the story of Hall. A zombie-like virus outbreak in a hotel hallway. He gave us a draft and I began working with Derrick 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.
Against the backdrop of a virus, I liked the intimate focus on domestic violence and bad relationships. What drew you to the stories of these two women?
It is important that the message of our movie is relatable to a personal level. The parent and child relationship was always an aspect that we felt was crucial in telling this story. When certain aspects of our film begin to fall into place, that mother/daughter bond and the impact that comes with that, are like the natural medium for us to tell our story. Having women as leads makes the topic of maternal love more powerful in the film. There is an ingrained connection between a mother and a child, which cannot be compared to any relationship in this world. When a mother sees how a child is affected by a bad relationship between parents, she will fight not only for her own life but also for her child. I believe the audience will react strongly to this.
Was the small scale partly down to what the budget demanded, or does it reflect the way that you would tell this story regardless?
The major effect we want to have by filming at a hotel is to create a feeling of claustrophobia. We want to put characters in a limited space so that we can show how they feel compressed in their life both physically and mentally. Metaphorically, the hotel is an escape room.
I was very keen on the setting – where did you shoot the corridor and room interiors for the hotel?
We shot at the Hotel Crown Plaza. Funny enough it was still fully functioning when we shot which was, of course, a challenge all on its own. But we were lucky because an old friend of mine, who also happens to be a producer on the project, helped us acquire the location. Funny enough I used to work for him at the same hotel and he was able to pull some strings for us. We rented out a block of rooms on a floor which prevented much of the foot traffic for paying guests. It also had its perks in that our actors got to sleep, wake up and walk onto the set.
The special effects were great: effective body horror without being gratuitous. Did you go through many designs to settle on the sort of makeup that was being used?
We wanted to keep it as real as possible. The least amount of CGI as possible. This was an ode to the older horror films from the ’70s and ’80s that helped inspire my love of cinema. It was important to me that we went as practical as possible. In Hall, our virus infects you in stages that progressively get worse. It was important to me most of all that we have fun with the practical elements and effects, and to really create that tribute. 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!
I was particularly impressed by Yumiko Shaku, who gave a very physical performance. How did you audition her for the part?
Yumiko from the get-go was an integral part of getting Hall made because her team from Japan was also investing in the film. They were instrumental in making the production happen. At first, I was hesitant not knowing how to speak Japanese, questioning if I would have a difficult time directing her, but in the end, it was a great experience and an absolute pleasure to work with her. She 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 had 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.
Across a varied CV, you’ve evidently worked across a lot of genres and styles. Is horror something you have always been keen on?
My brother and I have been making skits in our parents’ basement since we were kids. From original content, reenactments of other films, music performances, we were artists at heart since the beginning. A big part of that was us doing small horror skits to spook our parents. We loved portraying the Michael Myers’ character from the Halloween franchise, which is one of the first horror films that inspired me to explore the horror genre. Films like The Blob, Fright Night, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play, made me fall in love with cinema. The passion for directing has always been part of me, it just evolved over time. I believe it is when I watched the movie Ghostbusters in the late ’80s that I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker. Although I do want to explore and have explored other genres over the years, such as comedy and drama, the horror genre has been my favourite since the beginning. Hall gave me the opportunity to explore the horror genre, and making it as my debut was a dream come true.
Finally, do you have a favourite horror film?
The big one that really comes to mind. And maybe it is because it helped inspire me so much would be The Fly from David Cronenberg. The idea of such an insane concept can still manage to wow me and scare me growing up, brings back some fond memories of my introduction with horror. So let’s go with that. The aforementioned Halloween is, of course, a classic as well.
Hall premiers at FrightFest on Sunday 30th August at 18:00. You can get your tickets here.