Javier Quintero’s review published on Letterboxd:
Lav Diaz has playfully created a dystopian world by showing us how the Philippines would look in 2034 under the rule of president Nirvano Navarra and his totalitarian regime when the Sunlight has gone and human kind experiences a permanent night.
In its 276 minutes length, the film is built from three main alternate narrative lines:
1. The eccentric dictator Navarra and his henchwomen Martha Officio and Marissa Ventura controlling the country and taking extreme measures to apply politics through extrajudicial executions, disappearances through crocodile-feeding and the use of biological/chemical weapons directly on the population.
2. History teacher Haminilda Rios choosing prostitution as a secondary job and also a therapy against the lack of collective memory with doctor and author Jean Hadoro, while also joining a group of clandestine fresh blood drinkers.
3. Leader of the resistance, Hook Torollo, who is supposed to struggle for freedom but at the same time somehow questions the effectiveness of his methods.
In order to create a verisimil world of the future in the third world, Diaz uses a little army of drones equipped with lights, peculiar techy sounds and different speeds that can work as night vigilantes adding tension to specific situations or as creative sources of simultaneous cinematic movement and choreographies when needed.
Diaz uses sounds, objects and gestures as codas to help build the dramatic structure. In the Philippines of the future some mysterious objects that resemble electronic home assistants can play electric guitar music/noise with diverse purposes. Additionally, characters usually take out their teeth during some intense moments, probably inviting us to imagine or figure out what is going on with their habits and bodies during this particular time in history. And finally, posters of wanted people let us know that totalitarianism, bounties and informers cannot be separated in the logic of extrajudicial punishment and extermination, illegal procedures of control of the population and paramilitary violent actions within the territory.
Here we can find a blend of film genres that would make us think about film noir, dystopian science fiction and political film fable. It is impossible not to think about Rocha’s Terra em transe, Rosemberg Filho’s O Jardim das espumas, Godard’s Alphaville, Blomkamp’s Elysium and mainly, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as works that could be somehow related to The Halt as an ecclectic film experience, made with urgency and pertinency regarding politics in third world countries when today in 2019 we are still trying to overcome the always-returning colonialism and postcolonialism mindsets in each of our countries and their threatening combination with fascist ideologies. Chaplin delivered his film while Hitler was in power and by the same token, Diaz is showing The Halt while Duterte is still the president of the Philippines. The sense of urgency in both films is admirable as the two of them decided to face History while it is actually taking place and even when it is being conveniently written by hegemonic power.
It is interesting how Diaz, aware of the condition of his film as a political representation of historic and social circumstances, decides to end it in a skeptical way without giving the power and the material victory to the hero in the way any alienating corporate or industrial movie would do it, but instead leaves room to history to manifest in its own curse and strength as Hook changes his political fighting strategies from the insurrection to the education on human values for the new generation. At the same time and as a result of an intense process involving the emotions brought from her own past, history teacher Haminilda Rios also has an epiphany that ultimately leads her wanting to start teaching history in a totally different way.
The death of the dictator takes place in an absurd and symbolic way that distances it from the way people die in the Action flick or the Sci-Fi genre: No hero or technology conscious of what is really going on, has a chance to defeat the mad president. Instead, he is killed by a little crowd responding to immediate stimulation that does not even know who he is and probably will never imagine or wonder about what has taken place in the country during this one and the previous governments. And the permanent night still goes on.