REVIEW: Hotel of the Damned
– By Sooz Webb
There are several times in life when a girl needs her father: learning to ride a bike, cadging a lift from Dad’s taxi or assistance in fending off a swarm of marauding, cannibalistic killers. So it is for the unit at the heart of Hotel of Damned, who didn’t realize when they made their reservation, that they would end up on the menu.
After a stint in Romanian prison, ex-con Jimmy and his stalwart chum Nicky plan to start life afresh, get the hell out of dodge and back to normality. To get the ball rolling, they venture off to reconnect with Jimmy’s estranged daughter Maria. Unfortunately, she has other plans, none of which include her Pop or his crime buddies. She’s made her own life with skeezy boyfriend Bogdan, with whom she intends to skip town, fueled by booze, sex and drugs. This of course, doesn’t go down too well with dear ol’ Pappa, so he kidnaps his offspring, chucks her inamorato in the boot of his car and hits the road, determined that they will once again be a happy family. And you thought your relatives were weird…
Of course, the best laid plans of mice and maniacs never go accordingly, and the dysfunctional quartet crash their motor on the outskirts of nowheresville. Shaken up, injured and unable to call for help, they venture off and take refuge in an old, seemingly abandoned hotel, which would credit a hard pass from all but the desperate. It’s current residents, delighted a fresh batch of meals-on-legs has delivered themselves, set to work getting the adrenaline pumping, to create that ‘panic makes the meat more tender’ taste.
Writers Luca Bercovici and Paul Petcu have penned a tale delineating maladjusted family values, from the perspectives of flesh eaters and felons, resulting in a cat and mouse game, where the cat has rabies and the mouse has a gun. It’s refreshing, as most characters who find themselves in a ‘fight to survive’ situation, pee their pants with fear for at least a third of the movie, before rallying round in order to outwit their adversary. Here, we have a group who have been through several tough spots, can work out the logistics of a situation, and improvise a course of action to evade capture. That’s not to say there’s no moments of panic. The leads Jimmy and Nicky, (Peter Dobson and Louis Mandylor), are superb at portraying calm-on-the-outside-but-inside-I’m-screaming, resulting in more than a few chuckle inducing moments. A clever play from director Bobby Barbacioru, as it breaks the tension, mobilizes us to their plight and gives an emotional anchor, guaranteeing an audience’s desire for the characters to escape. It also establishes a human element. Although both units live on the wrong side of law, we empathise with the non-flesh guzzlers, as we find them more relatable on a day-to-day basis. Having said that, I don’t know a great deal of cannibals, so they may have differing opinions on who they would wish to survive.
Manuela Harabor smashes tropes and teeth as Maria, proving very much her father’s daughter, in terms of instinct. Neither final girl nor hapless victim, she’s a fully formed, fallible, not particularly likeable character and a welcome addition to the annals of horror. Her partner Bogdan (Bogdan Marhodin) by comparison, is a person that you should hate. A using, abusing lying manipulator, he’s depicted in such a way that it makes him bizarrely adorable, even though you know you should despise him. An ensemble effort from both cast and crew, to get the very best from the very worst of society.
And what of the cannibals? Well, we don’t get to see them a great deal, and only once do we get to see them live up to their chosen eating habits. They’re there on a more show don’t tell basis, through shadow, shape and suggestion. All underused storytelling devices, in a cinematic age where huge exposition is so often the norm. When we do catch a glimpse, they are suitably creepy and gross looking, mixing equal parts ‘I will consume your soul’ with a lack of skin care routine, to create memorable advisaries you would cross the street to avoid.
Strong story, beautiful, bleak cinematography and protagonists you root for, combined with elements of gore and suspense ensure that Hotel of the Damned is a must watch for drama and horror fan alike. Violent, bloody and brutal, it’s a harsh lesson learned, that a quick glance at Tripadvisor could, quite literally, save your bacon.