Based on the 2006 semi-autobiographical book by Catherine Hanrahan (who also scripts the movie), Lost Girls & Love Hotels is a moody, semi-erotic drama about depression and obsession, told from the perspective of a self-destructive young woman who slowly but surely is succumbing to grim thoughts as she’s forming a forbidden love connection to an older man. She’s trying to escape from the harsh realities of her past home life as she’s working in Japan as an English translator for a Japanese airline training academy during the day, yet she’s also an alcoholic seeking sexual thrills with random men at night. It’s only after meeting this mysterious man that she experiences the loss of control as she surrenders her own normal life in order to be with this person she’s immediately wowed by.

This is much more of a character study than anything else and how that character learns to grow and evolve as the film goes on. When we meet her, she’s already a disorganised wreck, not caring much about her job and constantly drowning in excess partying and engaging in anonymous, albeit sometimes dangerous, sexual encounters in love hotels. Yet she meets this one guy, and she experiences the submissive romance she’s been craving yet he’s also trying to help her let go of her past trauma with her family, to become reborn in a sense. It’s only then through separation from him and her friends that she goes through hell in order to come out the other side whole again. These are great ideas for a story and a character arc, and while there is something there in the finished film, it doesn’t quite have the darkness, the rawness, and the bite that this type of story needs in order to have any resonance or impact. Apparently, when this film was shot back in 2017, the original cut of the film was 45-minutes longer and was darker, showing more of a disturbing reality of love hotels, however, sometime before the release of the film, it was re-edited in order to tone down the darkness and more graphic nature of certain scenes, making it more appealing and attracting for the general wide audience. If these reports are true, then it’s a real shame because this film needed that dark rawness in order to make this film truly shine and hit harder than it does in its current state.

That’s not to say that the ingredients aren’t there because they definitely are; they just needed to form into something more than it is currently is right now. There is still some solid craft poured into this film and Olsson’s direction provides plenty of rich yet moody atmosphere. The busying Japanese surroundings, the atmospheric lighting, and certain cramped locales perfectly reflect the various emotional states the central character is experiencing, whether it’s feeling overwhelmed or feeling completely isolated or depressed. At the centre of this drama is Alexandra Daddario, who finally gets to sink her teeth into something truly substantial and deserving of her talents. Daddario has always been a natural screen presence, lending solid performances in worthwhile projects (True Detective, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, We Summon the Darkness), as well as absolute travesties (Baywatch, The Layover, Texas Chainsaw 3D). In this film, however, she quite possibly delivers her best performance to date, perfectly conveying the feelings of isolation and joylessness while also communicating the brief flashes of joy and happiness throughout, and it’s solely because of her that the movie just about succeeds.

Ultimately, Lost Girls & Love Hotels is a highly admirable effort by people who truly seemed like they wanted to make something that was truly worthy of substance with deeper themes and messages embedded throughout, and while it is a good film overall, it just doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that this movie could’ve reached. But thank heaven for Alexandra Daddario who is absolutely terrific throughout, and the film is worth seeing just for her performance alone.

Dir: William Olsson

Scr: Catherine Hanrahan

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Misuzu Kanno, Andrew Rothney, Yasunari Takeshima, Kate Easton, Haruka Imo, Carice van Houten

Prd: Lauren Mann, Lawrence Inglee

DOP: Kenji Katori

Music: Ola Fløttum

Country: United States

Year: 2020

Runtime: 97 minutes

Lost Girls & Love Hotels will be released on DVD on February 8th

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