Get used to seeing Franziska Weisz's back as she walks away from the camera, especially in long corridors, because Hotel contains an overwhelming number of such shots. It might be a means of building mystery in what appear to be perfectly normal places. Director Jessica Hausner rejects most all ideas of cheaply startling the viewer. With her second feature, Hausner made the barest of psychological horror films. It's a movie where the scares don't come but the eeriness derives from paying attention, where the more you consider what's happening, the more the unease will seep into your mind. At the same time, it's also a picture that can register virtually nothing for the impatient contingent. Those who go in expecting and hoping for the typical conceits of horror and suspense might be sorely disappointed by the lack of blood and bogeymen.
Hausner's dry style, seen previously in Lovely Rita and later in Lourdes, fits perfectly with a film about odd, possibly supernatural happenings because it conjures suspense simply by virtue of the withholding manner in which she works. Absent are clues or distinctive bits of foreshadowing or other Scooby-Doo pleasantries. But give in to Hotel and its distinctive sleight of hand where nothing happening actually hides all of the unseen, unspoken secrets, and the result should be extreme discomfort in the best possible way. Hausner doesn't show hardly any of it but perhaps she doesn't need to.
The blonde, conservatively-dressed Irene (Weisz) has just gotten a new job at a hotel off the beaten path. It's a quiet place, but does have the distinction of being near a cave which legend has it is lorded over by the Lady of the Woods. Hausner makes the hotel feel isolated, capturing Irene in those rear shots framed inside hallways and alone in the swimming pool. Nothing of substance much happens until one night when Irene returns from a swim to find her necklace has disappeared and her glasses are on the ground, with one lens cracked. Some might contend that nothing of much substance occurs afterward either, but therein lies the rewards and frustrations of Hausner's films thus far. They're full of subtext, maybe even buried in it and to the point where only theories and never answers can emerge. Hotel might be the least active of Hausner's movies. It relies on the viewer's mind to build things barely alluded to and, finally, confirms none of it. The abrupt ending is reminiscent of the director's earlier Lovely Rita so it's best to harbor no plot-based expectations.
Again, though, Hausner develops the atmosphere skillfully and proves herself to be a clinically proficient filmmaker. She's a sophisticated enough stylist to make the viewer want to continue watching even when very little seems to be going on. Specifically, in Hotel, there's tension built just from Irene's inability or unwillingness to fit in, where the missing necklace carries several suspects about whom we know virtually nothing except that Irene has inadvertently made a bad impression on them. It's extremely subdued tension but these feelings are what build the backbone of the film piece by piece. There have been various mentions of David Lynch in discussing Hotel but I just can't see that, and part of the reason why is because Lynch tends to forgo slow burn building. He's also much more interested in using audio editing as a companion to his visuals whereas, aside from stray songs on the soundtrack, I haven't noticed a reliance on score or particular attention to sound effects in Hausner's work.
The question of whether so much of the burden belongs with the viewer deserves to be asked, probably. It's clearly a deliberate choice Hausner has made considering that her other films carry the same requirement. In short, it makes you wonder what amount of rope the film should provide and how much the individual viewer need bring himself or herself. Sometimes this feels like the ultimate inquiry in modern filmgoing. Many of the movies that require audiences to do the least tend to be the most popular commercially. There's sometimes a monkeywrench that settles in nicely in the public consciousness by being both of a high quality and challenging (though never too challenging or challenging in the wrong ways). Obviously, Hausner's current style of filmmaking is never going to catch that sort of fire with mainstream viewers but it might even be off-putting enough as to alienate a further tier of those who do seek out less accessible works. It's worth repeating that hardly anything actually physically happens plotwise in her pictures. Only the overall mood gains wrinkles as unresolved things happen to the protagonists. If you wonder what the point is then you're not wrong. You're only watching the wrong movie.
Hotel joins Artificial Eye's other titles directed by Jessica Hausner, Lovely Rita and Lourdes (also on Blu-ray), on UK DVD. The disc is region-free and PAL. It is single-layered.
The transfer here is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen monitors. It's progressive and free from any marks of damage. The level of grain is quite high, but it doesn't seem to be a situation where noise has affected the image. Detail and sharpness aren't what could be called impressive, though things do look entirely reasonable. Colors are well-represented and give the effect of brightening a rather muted overall palette when necessary.
German Dolby Digital 2.0 audio has a little bit of subtlety at times but also treats the louder club scenes well. It's an unambitious track, with some instrumentation early on that soon gives way to dialogue and snippets of music. Everything can be heard cleanly and at a consistent level. There are no complaints to be had with it. Subtitles are available in English and are white in color.
Only trailers for Hausner's three films - Lourdes (1:54), Hotel (1:45), and Lovely Rita (1:27) - have been included as supplements.