Regardless of one’s budget, a well-executed, smart idea can sell science fiction films on the smallest of scales. With seemingly little resources, the writing and directing team of Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia attempt to put that to practice in H., a character-driven, but narratively obtuse sci-fi film that vexes more than it satisfies. This isn’t to say a confounding experience isn’t appreciated to stretch our minds in the genre, but H. simply doesn’t feel fully formed, keeping us at a narrative distance from its otherwise relatable characters.
Featuring two separate stories split into four chapters in the upstate New York town of Troy, we first follow the aging Helen (Inside Llewyn Davis‘ Robin Bartlett) and her husband Roy (Julian Gamble). Married for around forty years, the latter takes naps in the bathroom to get away from his wife and in the evening they watch the same television show in separate rooms. Helen is consistently pre-occupied with her “reborn” baby doll, which is crafted by hand (as the opening titles eerily display) and delivered in a cardboard box. While Helen and her group of neighborhood friends — each equipped with their own doll — treat them as their own children, even getting up in the wee hours of the morning to feed them, others in the city perceive them to be as fake as the audience does.
The second storyline follows another Helen (Rebecca Dayan), who is an artist with her partner (Will Janowitz) and recently pregnant. As issues of infidelity and commitment pervade their relationship, a meteor reportedly crashes nearby, causing people to go missing, a black horse (and more, in a enjoyably deranged scene) to appear. The strange event, seemingly having to do with a statue’s severed head floating in Lake George, causes eyes to go bloodshot, perfect clouds to form, glasses to break, and a coma state to occur, seemingly induced by the local news. As the two stories sporadically converge, there’s the sense that this is all building to something significant, but that moment never occurs.
When it comes to gleaning answers, a few loose connections could be made — specifically the somewhat fulfilling life the elder Helen has with her fake baby, while the younger Helen’s life crumbles as she attempts to have her own — but the film keeps us at disappointing distance from the various otherworldly events. Attieh and Garcia are clearly gifted filmmakers with the ability to present ambitious ideas, but it often feels like they are making things up as they go. While we may be looking forward to their next feature, the self-indulgent tone of their third feature keeps one in a detached state.
Acting more as a series of strange occurrences than a wholly fulfilling experience, perhaps another watch is required for H., but at first glance, it offers intriguing imagery at nearly every turn without the foundation to make us invested.
H. premiered at Sundance Film Festival.