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There is something to be said for a film that attempts to tap into the madnesses of mankind. The human mind is the scariest place on earth and to focus a story in this ever changing, sometimes wondrous, sometimes nightmarish headspace, is a great but also challenging prospect. For those that succeed – The Shining, Jacob’s Ladder, Joker – they enjoy a connection that is sometimes intriguing and sometimes fiercely honest and thus becomes legendary, however other films aim equally big but don’t quite manage to capture that same success. In fact, ironically enough, when toying with the mind onscreen you can sometimes risk becoming lost in it and thus losing the story too (The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears). Unfortunately, Julio Maria Martino’s Country of Hotels falls into this category.
Describing the film’s story is difficult because it has several, but the crux of the film regards a specific hotel room in an old fashioned, you might say slightly tired, hotel building. In room 508, we see a number of occupants check in and darkness seems to follow them, as the room becomes as beaten down as the isolated and lost occupants themselves.
This is a difficult piece of art to review, and art it is, because while there is much to admire in Martino’s film, there is also a growing frustration that develops with it. Clearly taking some atmospheric inspirations from Stanley Kubrick’s aforementioned hotel-set chiller, this is less horror and more of an unhinged drama but it feels unfortunately kept at arm’s length, creating a tiring distance that stops you from tapping in to a fully realised meaning. A matter elevated by some round in circles dialogue. That said, it is rather incredible how some of the film’s attempted themes of isolation and confinement, have come to take on a far greater real world application of late. And as such, this may mean the film goes on to enjoy a following from a specific generation of viewers.
The acting is mostly good all round, with Adam Leese, Matthew Leitch and Siobhan Hewlett being particularly memorable. Though you find yourself thinking you are getting somewhere with each of the sequences in this purposely disordered story, before you move on to the next phase, and as such most of the characters become passing faces caught in the grip of the mania attached to this setting. This would be fine but the film irkingly does not really seem to reach as resounding a resolution as you hope it might, and instead of leaving you assessing and theorising its ambiguous hallways, it never really seems to point beyond some momentary shock tactics and recurring debaucheries.
It is a well filmed and sometimes intriguing offering but Country of Hotels and its unravelling array of human stories in this otherworldly hotel setting does not bring you close enough into its own mind to allow you to properly enjoy, unpick and assess the situation. Or perhaps I am just missing something, which is a distinct possibility. Either way this is an unusual, far reaching and infuriating experience… then again, that’s life!