February 24, 2007

HOTEL (2004) - Lynchian German mystery

(2004, Austria/Germany)

Reviewed from the Thai PAL DVD (Mangpong)

(UPDATE July 2010 - Hotel is now out on region 2 DVD in the UK)

Note that this is not the 2001 Mike Figgis comedy, starring Max Beesley!

Once again I was drawn to a film by the TwitchFilm website, which teased me with the poster. I found it on DVD in Thailand, one of the few countries it’s been released in. I went into the film knowing nothing more about it than the cover art and the images in the DVD menus.

Young, blonde Irene (Franziska Weisz) starts a new job at a large hotel deep in a German forest. As she slowly gets to know the other staff, she discovers that her predecessor has disappeared and the police are still investigating. Is there a murderer in the hotel, or is the answer connected to the local legend of a witch who lived in the nearby Devil’s Cave?

The many worrying shots of pitch blackness in the surrounding woods and in the cave brought to mind The Blair Witch Project, which could just be the mental trap that the director, Jessica Hausner, wanted to lead viewers towards. The disconcerting sound design adds a layer of tension to almost every scene, reminded me of Eraserhead. Not something that happens very often, as that David Lynch film is pretty unique. The awkward and cold characters who also work at the hotel added to the Lynchian feeling.

The film’s theme could easily be darkness. The hotel manager likes to keep unneeded lights turned off. The outside of the hotel is kept dark, thick curtains keep light in, meaning that once anyone steps outside the hotel, they’re standing in almost pitch blackness. Strangely, characters walk into the woods and enter the Devil’s Cave without even using a torch. Irene keeps walking into darkened corridors… They all seem to welcome the dark.

The mood is also generated by the intensely colourful and contrasty cinematography, with some disconcerting handheld camerawork and the occasional dizzying, swooping tracking move to keep the viewer off-balance.
Even though we see most of the film through Irene, it’s not as if we get to know her terribly well. Even when she literally lets her hair down at the local pub (which plays deafening techno music), she’s still looks pretty reserved. We get clues about her and what’s going on all through the film, and then… 

After watching it, I was scrabbling around to work out “what just happened?”. I looked to the trailer and thought I found a few more clues, or were they red herrings? The film is far more subtle than I’d anticipated, offering a very Lynchian film which you can carefully analyse for answers, or just enjoy the ride, which I did. The whole film constantly keeps you in suspense, from almost the very start. It’s ultimately enjoyable as a moody experience, rather than a story, despite making you think it might have one.

Tantalisingly, this film was cut by the director by around 7 minutes (after it’s initial festival screenings) – I’d like to see these missing scenes for more clues. But next time I’ll be ready for the ending. 3am would be a good time to watch this film – for it’s downbeat setting and mood. Then you’d think that you had succumbed to sleep and missed the end of the story.

Apparently the Hong Kong DVD of Hotel is only in Stereo, while my Thai DVD has the German soundtrack in 5.1 surround, which really added to the experience. The picture is non-anamorphic widescreen, with good English subtitles. You can get one here from eThaiCD.


  1. i just watched this, and whilst i enjoyed the ride, i can honestly say i have no idea what happened!

  2. Same here!

    It's now out on DVD in the UK, to puzzle and entrance a whole new audience!

  3. It's not a German but an Austrian film actually, but details aside it is wonderful. And very Lynchian indeed.
    We likes ;-)

  4. It's not a German but an Austrian film actually, but details aside it is wonderful. And very Lynchian indeed.
    We likes ;-)

  5. Ah, thank you. Didn't know that this was Austrian. I tried the director's LOURDES but like HOTEL more...