Happer’s Comet by Tyler Taormina is a hypnotic ode to the night owl

Spotting COVID-era ephemera was new to 2021 films, even some of the best. As early as last February, we saw masks worn, some ostensibly under the nose, in Bad Luck Bang or Loony Porn and later in the year in drive my car; same Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ended with a nod to the era of confinement. If a crop of this year’s Berlinale is anything to go by, 2022 already seems to be ushering in a wave of smaller-scale projects from filmmakers who have continued to create during this time and, directly or indirectly, express what it was like to be right. the thickness of it.

The screening in the leftmost Forum section of the festival (and the main one I’ve seen) is Happer’s Comet, a hypnotic, sensory, dialogue-free film that unfolds in a polished 62 minutes. The director is Tyler Taormina, a filmmaker from Los Angeles who made the great suburban surreal work rye ham in 2019. His latest is both a bewitching ode to the night owl and, given its constraints, quietly energizes artistic expression.

It is structured as a series of beautifully shot vignettes featuring family members and neighbors from Taormina, shot around their homes and workplaces. What is remarkable Happer’s Comet this is what Taormina achieves in unison, the resulting cumulative ambiance. Every setting, and nearly every person, seems disparate and isolated (in just a few sequences we show more than one character onscreen), but they feel intrinsically connected, like a web of mycelium. (As the end credits confirm, with some affection, it was made “in lockdown with a two-person crew and a cast from my hometown community.”)

There is also a lot of variety in these thumbnails. One of the few recurring characters is a guy who jumps out of a window to go roller-skating (sort of not boring, despite how that sounds). Another wanders over the audio recording on his phone. There is a woman sleeping on the sofa; a boy plucking his eyebrows, for some reason using his phone as a mirror (Comet is full of mirrors); and a nice sequence of a late-night restaurant worker swinging around with his vacuum cleaner, his only customer an old man counting his $1 bills. Taormina is also sensitive to small details, the kind of things you may have noticed during lockdown that never crossed your mind before, like the play of light on the wall when a car drives by at night; or the reflection of the television screen on a wall of collectible baseballs, or on a wall of trophies; or the sounds of neighbors in a distant room.

In a way, it’s all compelling, perhaps thanks to that witchy vibe, but also the character of its images. Shot in the dead of night, on the street, or in brightly lit interiors—and often with flashlights—its aesthetic holds a distant torch to late ’80s cinema. (I’ve been reminded more than once of the early street scenes by John Carpenter Fogwhich was shot by Dean Cundey, who went on to work on one of the best flashlight movies ever made.) Adding to that late ’80s vibe is Taormina’s foreground of a rotten cob of corn , crawling with ants just like the ear in blue velvet. (The score, a nice hazy pastiche of 50s Americana, carries a similar Lynchian/Angerian quality.)

Perhaps it’s the experimental spirit of Taormina’s film or the quality of the execution, but these homages are never too self-conscious – it’s a work playfully aware of its own construction. After an hour of showing us solitary figures, Taormina finally comes full circle, ending Happer’s Comet with more corn, as well as the least COVID thing of all: physical touch. We deserved it.

Happer’s Comet premiered at the Berlinale 2022.

About Monty S. Maynard

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