Writer/director Tyler Taormina’s dreamlike mosaic, “Happer’s Comet,” eschews formality for the metaphysical. [BAMcinemaFest]

Writer/director Tyler Taormina (Ham on Rye) returned home to New York to move in with his family during the initial lockdown period in 2020. During that time, with help from friends, online strangers, and his family, Taormina spent four months developing a project exploring the freedom of night in all its sensual and sinister possibilities. For 62-minutes, audiences are treated to a series of loosely connected moments which, combined, create a mosaic of Long Island night life. Because of Taormina’s languid pacing, the wordless performances, and the emphasis on sounds, Happer’s Comet is frequently hypnotic, lulling its audience, harmonizing with their psyche, bringing them to a place beyond traditional narratives and into a real-life dreamscape. Post-premiere at Berlinale Film Festival 2022, Taormina’s Happer’s Comet comes to the BAMcinemaFest 2022 to inspire a new set of dreamers and potential night owls.

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A scene from HAPPER’S COMET.

With the fall of the sun, comes not just the rise of the moon, but all the creatures which come alive at night. For this town, located some in place, while most inhabitants are asleep in their beds or relaxing in cozy comfort, a select few change clothes, put on makeup and skates, and leave. With only the sounds of night, these individuals explore their home and we are invited along with them.

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A scene from HAPPER’S COMET.

Taormina’s film plays like a dream. Not one which stops the heart or is full of fantasy, but the kind where you observe from a distance, being a part of something while also excluded. The poster from Berlinale depicts a series of window frames, each section with its own cross work, and two yellow lines moving through the frames, split only by the cross work and separations in the window frames themselves. The yellow lines could be those from a road way, as shown in one rather tense sequence involving a driver who should no longer be behind the wheel, or they could be part of a corn stalk, a significant location for each of the skaters. The poster is itself a bit of a test, the meaning of it dependent on what we bring to it, much like dreams. A read of the film could explore how people become boxed in at night, lonely and terrified in their isolation, supported by a police car which patrols the streets, shining its searchlight through various homes. Another read speaks to the dread of night in its seeming infinity, stretching on without break, leaving only one’s thoughts to accompany them when sleep proves evasive. Another read is a declaration of freedom, even in reticence, being able to come alive with fewer eyes (something Taormina suggests via the application of makeup on a male, the hiding behind a bush by another when a car approaches, or the destination of the film being a secret bacchanalia). Since none of the characters speak, the scant voices coming from either song or broadcast, everything we see is up to interpretation: Taormina’s or our own.

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A scene from HAPPER’S COMET.

Despite the lack of specificity, Happer’s Comet, for all of its mystique, offers a strange calm that threatens to lull you into a suggestive relaxation. It’s not that Taormina wants to convince you of a thing, it’s that he captures so well the feeling of night that, if enjoyed the way the film intends, one is likely to feel as though in a cocoon: embraced by darkness, soothed by the sounds of blowing leaves, rolling skates, and, yes, even the blasting of a trains horn. There is a peacefulness that pervades throughout the film which can be bestowed upon the viewer. This is both a strength and a weakness as staying locked into the thinly-connected portions grows difficult as comfort sets in. That the micro-stories start to lose a bit of clarity as one travels along with Happer’s Comet doesn’t do the film any favors, either.

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A scene from HAPPER’S COMET.

If there’s one thing that draws out true consternation, it’s the inconsistency in time setting of the film. After the title card alongside a rather strange piece of imagery that makes better sense toward the end of the film, we’re shown a house surrounded by greenery. This house is surrounded by the sounds of night — insects, aviaries, and the sound of a local train, along with a water sprinkler at work. From here, we’re taken to a vehicle whose occupants sit in possible discomfort while the water falls on their windshield. After setting this scene, the camera pulls out to the rear bumper, the car sitting idle and brown leaves gathering on the ground. These leaves become the transitional point for moving away from the house, snagging upon them to see where next we may go, but creating an issue that conflicts through the rest of the film: if it’s so cold that there are leaves aplenty on the ground, brown leaves, dead leaves, then why is the sprinkler running? Why is the grass upon which the water falls tall and healthy? We learn with concrete evidence that the events we see take place on the same night and in the month of November. If this was shot in Long Island, and we take the in-film location as the same for where it was shot, then there would be no insects singing their songs nor green grass or water sprinklers. One is willing to allow for this discrepancy as the whole of the film is shot as though the audience is a voyeur, peering in on the intimate and private under the cover of darkness, the idea of a dreamstate making up the rules being fairly strong from beginning to end. There’s also the possibility that what we hear is all fictional save for a few noises, as the insects don’t make themselves known until an arm shoots out of a window, seeming to recreate natural noises at an unnatural time. This is something that most certainly explains away the sounds of a different time period, but doesn’t explain the difference in color within nature itself.

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A scene from HAPPER’S COMET.

However you opt to watch Happer’s Comet, Taormina provides the following recommendation before starting: watch on the biggest screen you can, in the darkest room you can, with the loudest sound you can. Much like documentary 32 Sounds, Happer’s is an experiential film where the atmosphere is entirely connected to how well the audience will receive it. Frankly, if not for the raging migraine that developed post-watch (unrelated to the film), I would’ve gone for a night walk before bed just to satisfy the craving Taormina instilled. Like his night walkers, I, too, used to enjoy going for walks while most of the world was heading to bed. In my younger years, it was with headphones on, wandering mine and neighboring streets to the rhythms of whatever cassette or CD was front of mind at the time (believe it or not, SoHo’s “Whisper To A Scream” cover is quite remarkable in the dark of night); whereas, until December 2021, 10pm is when my wife and I would take the dog for a walk and empty our end-of-day thoughts upon one another. On the one hand, night brings about a sense of isolation and terror given what can hide in the darkness, but it also brings with it a sense of freedom due to the reduced prying eyes. That’s most certainly how much of Taormina’s film feels, as though we, the audience, are wandering the streets of this town, offered no information other than what we ingest through our senses. Of course, seeing as there’s no concrete narrative, everything is like a dream, making meaning entirely interpretive and, thus, the whole of Happer’s Comet is subjective to the highest order. But who said dreams had to mean anything past the journey upon which you rode?

Screening during the BAMcinemaFest 2022.

For more information, head to the official Happer’s Comet BAMcinemaFest film page or the Factory 25 webpage.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.



Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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