By J Simpson.
Thai director/polymath Pradba Yoon’s directorial debut is a disturbing, gorgeous arthouse head trip with style and substance. Warning: it’s not for the faint of heart or those easily offended.
The horror and sci-fi elements of Motel Mist – the directorial debut from Thai interdisciplinary artist Pradba Yoon – don’t kick in until around the 80-minute mark. Until then, it’s mostly a squalid, sordid revenge flick – but a particularly lovely one. Motel Mist is shot in glowing, numinous HD, along the lines of the neon-soaked visions of Nicholas Winding Refn. The pacing and framing of Motel Mist are more Dogme 95, however. Long, unflinching gazes at the ugliness and madness that Humans are capable of, made all the more hideous in their slow, stately unfurling.
Motel Mist is an example of hyperlink cinema – a particularly modern format following three seemingly unrelated stories, other than the fact that they play out in the Hotel Mistress. A pedophile gets his dues, a concierge juggles fire, and a missing actor talks to aliens, in this nutso lysergic vision.
Motel Mist starts off with Laila, a waifish teenage girl, played by Prapamonton Eiamchan, being taken to the ‘love motel’ by Sopol, a middle-aged pervert portrayed by Surapol Poonpiriya. Laila is the perfect victim, seemingly naive and defenseless. Sopol subjects her to all manner of degradations and humiliations in the film’s first third. It’s a hard watch, to be sure, and is pretty much guaranteed to offend or disturb pretty much everybody. It’s worth plodding through the filth, however, to watch Motel Mist unfurl its surreal, head-splitting vision.
Simultaneously, the film introduces us to Tot, played by Wissanu Likitsathaporn, the hotel concierge who just wants to juggle fire on the beach for a living. We also see numerous references about Tul, played by Vasuphon Kriangprapakit, a former child actor who’s been experiencing a seeming psychotic break, talking about all manner of crackpot, wingnut theories.
These theories aren’t as crackpot as they may seem, we find out as the film plays out into its increasingly bizarre second and third acts.
Things begin to shift when Vicky, a more self-confident young woman played by Katareeya Theapchatri, shows up to ‘play’ with Laila. The play quickly turns deadly, however, as the pair trick and over-power Sopol, turning the tables. The prey have become the predator, and they relish their newfound power in all manner of unspeakable ways.
Meanwhile, we spend a little more time with Tul, in his spaceship-like hotel room, as we begin to find out perhaps he’s not as paranoid as we first thought.
From here, things quickly boil over into a truly psychotropic mixture of exploitation sleaze and psychedelic sci-fi, all viewed through the long, languorous gaze of slow cinema. Before beginning his career as a director, Prabda Yoon worked as a Thai translator. He translated Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and The Catcher In The Rye into Thai, giving you an idea of his pre-occupations, and also what you’re in store for.
The website Morbidly Beautiful compares Motel Mist to a “Thai version of the hang-out film,” referencing the talk-oriented films of Richard Linklater and Jim Jarmusch. The problem is, they just happen to be hanging out in the most seamy underbelly of human existence. It’s like taking a long, relaxing bath in lukewarm sewage. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the casual viewer.
At its heart, Motel Mist is mostly a revenge flick, but one with numerous mind-melting flourishes. It raises the questions that any revenge flick asks – is the director relishing what they’re depicting? Is this exploitative? Are we complicit, as viewers?
In the case of Motel Mist, the answer is: no. Yoon doesn’t seem to be relishing or glorifying any of the depravity he depicts. He’s merely showing it, in all of its ugliness and brutality. Sopol is shown to be the depraved loser he is. His comeuppance is satisfying, if painful, to watch.
Full disclosure: I often have a hard time viewing sexual abuse, which are in no short supply in Motel Mist. Yet I found the film to be ultimately rewarding. Yoon doesn’t seem to be glorifying sexual abuse, merely depicting it. These things do happen – happen every day, in fact – which is part of why it’s important to look at and talk about the hard topics.
It’s more horrific than 100 slasher flicks run through Seth Brundle’s transmogrifier, made all the more so by the fact that it’s not particularly portrayed as a horror film.
Horror movies – and genre films in general – usually come right out and tell you what they are. The tense string stingers; the ominous thud of sub-bass, like a lumpen malformed heart; the crepuscular creaking menace. You know what you’re in for and you’re braced for it. Sure, the jump scares might get you, leaving you tittering with nervous laughter like a child whistling past the graveyard, but for the most part these terrors simply roll right off of your steeled carapace, never really sinking in.
It’s a stretch to call Motel Mist a horror film, per se, although it depicts some of the most horrific moments you’re likely to see this year. Instead, this artful arthouse headfuck of a film lands somewhere between slow cinema and trashy exploitation film. And it’s so much the better for it.
The closest comparison for Motel Mist might be the ’90s films of Greg Araki, like Doom Generation or Nowhere, where the mundane is stripped of its smiley veneer and the surreality and horror that surround us every day are brought into the unflinching light of day. In the case of Motel Mist, it’s more like the dingy neon lights of a run-down hotel by the hour, but the end result is the same.
Motel Mist is finally getting an American release. Motel Mist will be available on VOD and DVD, via Breaking Glass Productions, on April 9.
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