Director Lav Diaz is indeed not acclaimed for the brevity of his films, and the demanding nature of his work could cause his politically charged message to be buried under the nearly 5-hour runtime in each of his movies. Not to take anything away from the immense directing talent of Diaz, but rather the messages of his films are only revealed to the dedicated. However, Diaz’s latest film The Halt (Ang Hupa), which premiered in the Director’s Fortnight section of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, is a low-budget, sci-fi film that examines the inevitable doom of humanity within the context of a fascist regime in the Philippines. The film demands your attention throughout the nearly four-and-a-half-hour runtime, but Diaz’s technical craft rewards his dedicated audiences with beautifully shot, nocturnal long-takes that easily capture the message without the usual engagement required to view his work.
Set in a world where the sun no longer shines and the police force consists entirely of drones — The Halt examines the relationship between the corrupted government and its oppressed citizens. Centered around the “divinely appointed” leader Nirvano Navarra, the plot follows multiple stories of those directly around him.
Diaz boils down the screenplay to minimal levels to make room for The Halt’s fantastic visuals. Each long take is mesmerizing, and the contrast of the black and white frames creates beautiful sharp shadows. Diaz slowly guides his audience through his horrifying prediction for the future of his country while simultaneously shrouding this dystopian future in beautiful camera work.
In a time where many favorite sci-fi films have budgets well over hundreds of millions of dollars, Diaz’s simplistic approach to the genre is refreshing. The only indication that this film takes place in the future is the presence of the police drones that are consistently seen flying in and out of the frame. Their presence is never fully explained, but they are the physical representation of the paranoia that reverberates throughout characters in the film. The lack of expensive CGI and SFX could easily be written off as a budgetary constraint, but Diaz is deliberately creating his world as simple as possible to allow the film to mirror the gritty, political turmoil felt not only in the Philippines but around the world.
For much of the runtime, the film is understandably bleak as Diaz is forcing the audience to reckon with their political demons while concisely and precisely crafting the manifestation of the world he fears the most. There is a fleeting semblance of hope that remains at the core of the film — Diaz meticulously creates this black and white world run by a crazy tyrant, but also generates a touching level of humanity throughout the adversity. This humanity is centered around a group of rebels taking a stand against tyranny — attempting to take back their country.
So, while the runtime of Diaz’s film may intimidate those unfamiliar with his previous work, this film deserves attention for its incredible visuals and simple, yet practical directorial approach.