“1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.” Named after the child at the core of this film, writer-director Michael Dolha’s ‘Hayley’ is a 10:50 minutes short about one woman’s battle to get a little girl out from under the control of a man who claims to be the girl’s uncle and who Alina, the flight attendant believes is sexually abusing her.
Played by Desi Ivanova, Alina is the first thing you see when the film opens, surreptitiously hiding behind curtains, her eyes scanning for clues and provable evidence of what she is certain is child sexual abuse. DoP Andrii Lantukh creates a striking frame by closing in on her eyes, alert and searching. Her object of attention is a little girl (played by first-time actor Daniela Maria Sacui Roman) in a yellow dress, steadily drawing away in a notebook, and her supposed uncle (Tudor Petrut). The film features a heavily cool palette, where Hayley’s bright yellow dress is like a beacon light, pulling the audience’s attention towards her. You don’t know what’s wrong but you know something is not right.
Tudor Petrut is a terrifying presence for the implications of his character. He may not scare an adult, but from Alina’s or Hayley’s perspective, he is a looming source of terror that cannot be run away from. Alina’s repeated attempts to interact with Hayley or to find out more is thwarted by the man over and over as she keeps coming up with more desperate plans. Hayley will not speak, she won’t even look up. For three hours of the flight, she has devoted her entire attention to making little drawings. Alina’s concern for the child does not entirely translate well; her interactions with Hayley sound superficial and lack warmth or connection. Desi Ivanova delivers a fairly nuanced performance and maintains the intensity of tension even in more relaxed scenes. She effectively transfers her fear to the audience, and proof or not, you are scared for the child as well. Elena Plesa as Gloria acts a source of trust and safety for Alina, though her withdrawal is disappointing from the perspective of the script.
The film leaves you (aptly) without closure; the gaping emptiness of the black screen is succeeded by ghastly statistics and you have to wonder, how many have looked away when vulnerable lives were and are at risk?#ShortFilmReview: 'Hayley': Some ask for help silently… Click To Tweet