Oh boy, this was a strange one: a bit of a murder/crime thriller by way of arthouse cinema – on the one hand too sophisticated for its own good, on the other clearly too simplistic and conveniently plotted to really enthral. Its saving grace is two great performances – Tye Sheridan is utterly convincing as Bart, the titular hotel night clerk with Asperger Syndrome, and Ana de Armas quite beguiling as the troubled beautiful hotel guest Andrea. The two characters strike up an unlikely friendship and their scenes together prove to be the strongest part of the movie. Its when they are offscreen that the film falters.
The films central premise is that Bart is highly intelligent albeit socially awkward and isolated, and in an attempt to improve his social skills he has used his technical talents to put cameras and microphones in some of the hotel rooms with which to study the behaviour of the guests. The film doesn’t really spend any of the time that Kubrick or Lynch might have used to examine what voyeuristic kicks Bart gets out of it, instead it quickly leads into a murder thriller when Bart witnesses a female guest getting murdered and his attempt to stop it (and later hide his bugging equipment etc) only gets him implicated as a suspect. The police, led by Detective Espada (a pretty much wasted John Leguizamo who possibly dropped in for a few days easy work) consider Bart their chief suspect but while they get closer to what Bart has been doing, spying on the guests etc, Bart strikes up a connection with another female guest who quickly becomes the possible next victim.
I do just want to raise something that bugged the shit out of me watching this movie- what the hell happened to Helen Hunt? She plays Bart’s mother, Ethel, and I’d watched her first scene thinking the role was being played by some ill-cast and stiff-looking incredibly poor actress only for Claire to inform me “that’s Helen Hunt“. Now, I have to be careful here- it seems clear to me that she has had some kind of surgery and I have no idea whether it is related to some accident or illness, but if this was purely cosmetic its a hideous failure. I’ve always liked and admired Helen Hunt, she was great in all the films I’ve ever seen her in – Trancers, The Bucket List, Twister, Cast Away, admittedly I’ve not caught her in anything for several years- but good grief, her face seems to have one expression now (concerned frown) and that’s it. It bugged me throughout the film, really bothered and distracted me, damn near ruined the film. Why can’t Hollywood allow its ladies to age gracefully and naturally? I’m probably being grossly unfair and inappropriate towards her but its just how I felt watching her in this. It looked like she was wearing prosthetics or something.
So anyway, the film was fine albeit disturbing for all the wrong reasons. Its one of those films that stretches credibility too far, and I suppose therefore individual mileage may vary when watching it. I was quite enamoured by Ana de Armas, as is becoming usual- I was so impressed by her in BR2049 and most recently Knives Out, and again she really is great here. I wonder if she may be slipping too easily into similar roles and maybe she should rebel against what may be the usual typecasting, but regards what this role requires of her she is quite excellent. You can’t bemoan an actor just doing well what he or she is given to work with, character-wise. She’s beautiful and emotive with those amazing eyes… I hope to see her in future in something more challenging and at odds with the parts of seen her in up to now. Her one failing in this is that I suspect she could have done with a little more darkness, I was split as to whether she was genuinely being caring towards Bart or just being manipulative- the end of the film takes this weird, not utterly convincing turn.
Anyway, I quite enjoyed the film but its clearly one of those films lost on Netflix that only needs watching when there’s nothing else out there of any interest, and considering all the stuff on Netflix, whats the odds of that? Eventually people will stumble upon it and they may be bored stiff, they may be enthralled. I wonder just how many will realise that’s Helen Hunt up on the screen without a WTF moment upon them seeing her name on the credits.