Anthologies can be great ways to tell stories that are creative and original but don’t necessitate an entire focus to them – especially in horror. Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk and Joyce Carol Oates have all created short story collections to showcase ideas they liked but didn’t think they were book-length on their own. When it comes to film, you need a little more structure in place – often there’s an overarching connective tissue, in V/H/S it’s the tapes, in The ABCs of Death it’s the alphabet, and in Country of Hotels, it is Room 508.
While this is Julio Maria Martino’s filmmaking debut, he’s experienced in storytelling, having directed many different plays. This is reflected in his choices for how he executes Country of Hotels visually. The production design recollects visual notions of The Shining’s hexagonal pattern and palette. And the spotlight-esque lighting drapes our guests in an overwhelming glow or strong darkness depending on their mental state. The very concept itself feels like it belongs upon a stage, rather than a film. Especially with the characters – more elevated representations than grounded individuals. With many of our guests deliberately playing up specific traits which add to the theatricality of Martino’s work. Creating a film with a more theatrical feel can work incredibly well and add to its tensions a la Hitchcock’s Rope, but here it just feels as though there’s much more theatre than there is film. While Marino does play with cinematic the elements of his interchanging framing devices; the CCTV in the bathroom, the television screen, the laptop monitor. It still feels as though he’s anchored to his theatrical devices rather than blending them into something more complimentary.
Bluntly speaking, Country of Hotels fails as an anthology. There’s a noticeably weak connective tissue so everything feels disjointed. Characters and storylines are rapidly set up without enough time to develop them to a strong conclusion. Instead inexplicably disappearing or tying themselves up with a suddenness that leaves you dissatisfied and increasingly uninterested. It’s debatable whether this could even be considered a true Horror anthology, given the actual lack of horror and the seemingly uninspired creativity to the stories themselves. It would have benefitted from taking on different writing units for the different segments, as V/H/S and The ABCs of Death did. There are some interesting ideas that’re played with, like rock n’ roll star Derek’s televisual entrapment in the typical seedy motel sex channel, but with a lack of setup and a poor execution, they bore rather than scare.
There is the blueprint to an intriguing story here. Martino dedicates the longest segment to 90s-esque businessman Pauly (Adam Leese), the most captivating resident by far. His narcissistic insecurity and explosive yuppie rhetoric combined with his mysterious health issues create a complex and entertaining arc, that I would’ve liked to have seen played out more. Adam Leese’s descent into insanity genuinely feels unhinged as he unravels himself in front of us through a mixture of tone and little gestures. He’s certainly the most memorable out of the cast. Perhaps if the script was reworked to solely focus around Pauly, Country of Hotels would be able to develop its sinister personality with a stronger focus, because for now, the scariest thing about Room 508 is the unwashed bedsheets.
Dir: Julio Maria Martino
Scr: David Hauptschein
Cast: Adam Leese, Siobhan Hewlett, Ben Shafik, Sabrina Faroldi
Prd: Saba Kia
Music: Christos Fanaras
DOP: Stefano Slocovich
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Country of Hotels is available on VOD now.