Experimental Reviews

Hard…BOILED!!! (2017) – 3.5 stars

Director: Angelina Fernández

Writer: Angelina Fernández

Cast: Marcel Mascaro, Justin Simon, Abraham Rabchinski, Juan Vergara Olson, Rafia Santana

Running time: 19mins

Hard…Boiled!!! seems to want to be all things, to all people, and I wonder if it ended up pleasing anyone in the process. It wants to be a mind-bending sci-fi, but it also wants to deliver a winking send-up of the noir genre. It wants to render a futuristic vision of melding visual pulp, and overlapping visual textures, but a third of its footage seems to have been lifted from Skype calls.

For all my gripes – and there are a few more where that came from – however, I found Hard…Boiled!!! oddly captivating. When trying to depict a “far-off future” and imagine what “Neo-Mexico” might be like, there is a temptation to render a Blade Runner-style, polished, neon-hellscape – which might be thematically horrific, but has a kind of visual grandeur that still makes it a world people fantasise about escaping to from our own bland dystopia.

Hard…Boiled!!! is aggressively ugly, though, and as much as that sounds like a slight, I commend it for that. Whether it was born of intent, or the film’s modest budget of MEX$6,000 (roughly US$350), there is something brilliantly prescient about the hideous, flat-lit, green-screen environments – a Frankenstein’s monster of pop imagery and garish colours, grafted to each other – which the actors hover just in front of, enrobed by a relentlessly fuzzy edge. This might have been produced in 2017, but director Angelina Fernández has anticipated the metaverse perfectly.

Again, that probably sounds like I didn’t like the film – but I think that it’s actually exactly what I want from my dystopia. The one we are descending into is not the advanced ruse of The Matrix, it has none of the holistic totalitarian enforcement of 1984; it is a pay-to-play Habbo Hotel, coated in AR renditions of visual refuse from the last century, encouraging us to prove we are ‘smart’ by recognising them, rather than considering just how vacuous and exploitative everything around us has become.

To that end, the art of Abraham Rabchinsky and the cinematography of Carolina Ibarrola – as well as the imagination of Fernández – deserve commendation here. They have built precisely the kind of migraine-inducing hell I expect life to devolve into for a large portion of humanity.

As to whether this was deliberate, I do believe there is sufficient evidence of guile and craft to conclude as much. For example, the entrance and garage of one skyscraper have doors which are a pair of giant, swivelling eyes – suggesting a kitsch kind of cutesy totalitarian surveillance state. Meanwhile, an animated photograph of a safety deposit box glides out of a wall to bid guests to give up their weaponry. As a result, it feels like Fernández’s ‘grizzled’ private eye Gumshoe is shuffling through a living Terry Gilliam cartoon.

There are places where this might have been ramped up, to deliver a more fully-realised vision, though. It often feels as though the film could lean harder into its faux-noir elements, and had it done more to that end, some of its jokes would likely have landed much better.

For example, in an inversion of the usual noir trope of a whiskey-soaked detective answering the call of a damsel in distress – having been persuaded to take on the case by physical desire, as much as cash – Gumshoe is a woman who routinely comments on the men she is working for.

Throwaway lines about it being a shame “someone so handsome” is dead, after the fatal shooting of her client, would be quite funny if it were part of a more fully-rounded character. It inverts the casual sexism of the traditional noir, and highlights the absurd cruelty of anyone suggesting the death of another is only a shame because of how fuckable they were.

Fernández’s performance also might have offered up a bit more characterisation, to really drive home which archetype she is subverting. Other performers do this well – including Justin Simon as Captain Police (not Captain of the Police, his name is Police, and his rank is Captain), whose delivery gives every bit the “damnit, we do things by the book here” trope – before taking it in a different direction to the norms we anticipate, by letting us know how his husband is doing. Marcel Mascaro as Geisha Girl, meanwhile, delivers an excellent performance as a classic femme fatal, who we are never sure if we can afford to trust, until the finale. They have an electric energy, in spite of also having to deliver lines via a webcam.

Unfortunately, an under-explored lead plot about technology that can see the future, and the impacts this might have on the world of religion – knowing with certainty what will come to pass remains the preserve of the divine at present – lets the story down slightly, suggesting maybe this production bit off more than it could chew. This is further underlined by the rushed conclusion, and slightly wastes a marvellous monologue by Juan Vergara Olson as villain Reverend Lucia.

Even so, all in all, I won’t mind watching this one again. And I would hasten to add, I would be really intrigued to see how the visual pulp of Fernández and her team has developed in the intervening six years since they concluded this production.

There is a lot to think and talk about in Hard…BOILED!!!, which might sound implausible from what I have described. But the ambition, the creativity and the thought that went into its creation are all deserving of an audience, and of your consideration beyond whether you think its effects live up to more polished sci-fi or noir productions.

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