Time to check into the HOTEL POSEIDON. A dirty, horrible hotel. Partially broken, and partially on fire. An existential and surreal experience with heavy influences from Roy Andersson (Songs from the Second Floor) and Tim Burton (Beetlejuice), Stefan Lernous’ HOTEL POSEIDON provides the viewer with a non-existent plot (which isn’t a bad thing) and instead relies on characters who resemble empty shells of human beings. When checking in, don’t concern yourself with understanding the story, but instead relax on a dusty bed and let the bizarre atmosphere consume you.
The opening shot/title card offers a beautiful piece of cinematography as the camera trails around the lobby and shows the garbage, broken elevator, and just a random mess of nautical-themed odds and ends. With filth everywhere, the first appearance of the hotel does not create a friendly or safe place to stay, and meeting the inhabitants does not improve any confidence in the location. No one in the hotel seems to have any motivation beyond drinking, dancing, and being strange. At the heart of the Poseidon, we find Dave (Tom Vermeir), the reluctant proprietor who shambles from room to room with no desire to interact with any of the boarders.
Somehow, attractive in its ugliness as every inch of the set and décor looks filthy, worn, and decrepit. Even the characters appear to be coated in a thin layer of grime and disgust. Everyone appears with an exaggeratedly pale face, which might conjure some likeness to Edward Scissorhands, but for the more knowledgeable movie fans, I offer the comparison of Richard Elfman’s The Forbidden Zone. The bizarre story and fantastical settings also fit in pretty nicely with this assessment as well.
For the best description of the plot, HOTEL shows the wayward Dave trapped inside his family’s business and his own head. Throughout the hotel, there are many images of fishbowls with varying amounts of water and dead fish, which serves as the perfect metaphor for Dave’s current reality. He can lookout, but he can never leave. While Dave appears in just about every segment, it is hard to develop any kind of attachment or even interest in the main character. But perhaps this was done by design as even the viewer is meant to overlook and disregard the protagonist.
The people also trapped in his bowl consist of his friend Erika (Ruth Becquart), who cleans up crime scenes by day and seeks out sexual pleasure in her downtime. Aunt Lucy (Dirk Lavryssen) helps fund the hotel, but her so-called ‘illness’ could more accurately be described as ‘dead’. Other family members include an overbearing mother and an unprincipled stepfather, who really only seem to appear as a representation of Dave’s anxiety. Only the lovely guest Nora seems to bring any kind of life to the sad interior of the hotel. While Dave seems to struggle with balancing reality and fantasy, Nora is the only one who appears able to reach him.
The story, if you can call it that, unfolds over the span of a day in which Dave experiences several surreal dreams and encounters with people from his past and the current hotel patrons who growing increasingly more unusual. The first half of the film offers more of a tour of the hotel as we meet a ton of characters and get bombarded with a lot of amazing set design and fantastic cinematography. Not much happens action-wise for a good portion of the film, but once the strangeness ramps up, it does not stop. The rising action comes from the ballroom when a party starts and all guests bring fear, obsessions, and above all anxieties. The party scene actually creates strong connections to Aronofsky’s mother! with heavy feelings of panic-inducing claustrophobia.
Overall a pretty immersive experience. The grit and the filth create a dampness in your bones, and you can almost smell the mold most likely growing on every surface. The director offers very distinct and very visceral imagery which creates almost a cartoonish gothic appearance. Some will find the symbolism overbearing, but the uniqueness of HOTEL POSEIDON will find it a place in the category of cult classics.
HOTEL POSEIDON had its international premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.