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Hotel Poseidon
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by Jay Seaver

"Too much."
2 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Hotel Poseidon" is probably not the first film to peak with its opening titles and decline precipitously after that - at some point in his career, Saul Bass must have worked on a stinker - but what it demonstrates about getting through off-putting material for a payoff is interesting. That opening has its gross bits, but they pay off in a nifty title reveal; the rest of the movie asks the audience to endure plenty more for less concrete awards.

Admittedly, filmmaker Stef Lernous is aiming to make a strikingly off-putting first impression, showing Dave (Tom Vermeir) living in the midst of the rot and decay that has overtaken the shuttered hotel that his late father opened, with this late morning bringing something between belittling and encouragement from the neighbor on the other side of a thing wall and his apparent lover (Ruth Becquart) skipping the latter. It also brings Nora (Anneke Sluiters), whose options must really be limited if she's knocking on the papered doors and asking Dave to rent her a room for one night; an appointment with Jacki (Dominique Van Malder), who has ideas of transforming the function room into a cabaret; and the death of his Aunt Lucy, whose hospital bed had been parked in a hallway, inactive to the point where she may actually have passed some time ago.

The hotel is established as a nasty place, with moldy surfaces, standing water in every aquarium used as decoration, and every disused item from the coffee pot to the lights catching on fire when it they try to draw a little electricity from the shoddy wiring, and Dave himself seems to belong there, walking around as if he's long accepted that adapting his routine to the squalor is less effort than making it what one might call livable. Lemous and actor Tom Vermeir seem to understand this mindset well; they make Dave feel like he absolutely hates the very idea of people, to the extent that one can see him accepting abuse because he feels he deserves it but also sneering in his responses because everyone else does too. That so many of them are played as cruel or callous doesn't exactly make one inclined to disagree with this take. Dave seems to barely leave the hotel, and they run together, with it hard to see where he ends and it begins.

But if Dave is the hotel, then what does it mean that when he reluctantly decides to let Nora stay, there does seem to be one room that only requires a little tidying up for the pretty redhead? Or that Jacki can look at the space and imagine transforming it into something lively, even if his definition of entertainment seems to be rather on the eccentric side? It would seem like the idea is that there might be hope for Dave yet. There are moments when one gets a glimpse of how he may not entirely have given up, like how he bursts into tears when calling an undertaker and has to confront directly that his aunt is gone between trying to avoid confrontation with his mother and feeling like the death professionals are trying to bleed him dry. He does not, perhaps, have to be miserable, although there's a lot of work to do.

By the time that the audience is ready to ponder that, the film is deep into a couple flights of fancy (or one long one with two distinct phases), possibly dreams or possibly just surreality. There are some mildly amusing bits, like the bartender with a thoroughly horrific running monologue that Dave falls into and out of. Jacki's cabaret seems like a long stretch where, even if Dave dreams of people wanting to be around him, he can't actually believe that he might actually belong somewhere, and the second leg of it is even more scattered, seeming to spin out of a fairly unimportant detail into being trapped by a woman but eventually growing happy in the cage. There's just so much of it, though, and while one can decrypt some of what Lemous seems to be going for, the cumulative effect can be numbing in the moment. It's one thing for a single heightened premise to be drawn out to one side or the other of the point of pain, but when a film is doing that for the third time and becoming more cryptic, it becomes a lot to ask of a viewer.

There are viewers who enjoy having that asked of them, and value to the approach. It's an awful lot of effort to feel bad, though, and a film like "Hotel Poseidon" must strike a balance between overwhelming its audience to perhaps show what living with depression is like (which may or may not be Lemous's goal) and providing the sort of unique experience that they let that unpleasant avalanche keep going rather than tapping out. Lemous and company make a noble effort, but it may just offer too little to make the misery worth it.

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originally posted: 08/14/21 01:09:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Stefan Lernous

Written by
  Stefan Lernous

  Tom Vermeir
  Ruth Becquart
  Anneke Sluiters

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