By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
Rarely since Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) has a silver screen horror reveled in the gory inventiveness of writer-director Giulio De Santi’s third full-length feature, Hotel Inferno (2013). The 77 minute opus of murder and madness largely gains such ingenuity from the conceit of being, as the photoplay’s original tagline read, “The first and only splatter film in ‘first person point of view’.” This was a full two years before Ilya Naishuller used this perspective, so common among video games, successfully in the action romp Hardcore Henry (2015). Though both depictions involve similar protagonists, men trained in lethality who find themselves on personally risky assignments, Hotel Inferno is a completely different experience. It is darker, bolder and more foreboding than Naishuller’s labor. It may not have the sharper veneer of Naishuller’s $2,000,000 budgeted endeavor. Still, this works grandly in its favor. It’s often grainy luster, courtesy of the ambient cinematography of Stefan bergi, adds a continuous sense of claustrophobia and intensity to the proceedings. This highly victorious element of the Necrostorm, Ledick Filmhandel, Wild Eye Releasing and Eclipse distribution is only heightened by De Santi’s brutally stirring direction. Likewise, his script is a well-constructed presentation. The dialogue in this Tunisia, North Africa and Rome, Italy recorded account is minimal. It is also rudimentary and straight to the point. But, this mechanizes to its favor incredibly. The result is an opus that, though occasionally plagued by a sense of routine familiarity, is certainly memorable. This is despite the actuality that it is never overly terrifying.
Furthermore, the story is kept deliberately thin. But, there is a mercilessly taut arc to the application. Such makes these otherwise minor criticisms all the more arbitrary. This is when we realize that these afore-mentioned components are deliberately erected this way. It is done in order to help craft the movie into such a consistently entertaining parade of extreme graphic violence. De Santi also deliberately induces layers of enigma by what he leaves unsaid. This is as true as it is when considering what is directly communicated to De Santi’s spectators. It accomplishes this in savage spades. Such is utilized with attitude in abundance.
The gimmick of De Santi’s production is just as immersive, and used just as imaginatively, as in Naishuller’s later developed undertaking. Both flicks issue a breakneck pace. This is via an immediate jump into their respective optical extravaganzas. It is one that pulls us in as soon as the effort commences. Also paralleled in both Hotel Inferno and Hardcore Henry, the particular head of the fiction remains shadowy throughout. Moreover, the appearance of each specific principal entity is often deliberately hidden.
For example, De Santi provides an early second act instance in his exertion, unveiled at twenty-seven minutes in, which finds his hero unwrapping a bloody bandage. His hands are stretched out in front of a bathroom sink. Yet, his head is cocked down to avoid the mirror. This, we can only presume, is above this basin. Such smaller details showcase the creative flare this decision conjures. It makes it all the easier to see the extended tips of his extremities as being our own. The outcome of this is deft. It gives the production the illusion of being almost interactive. Not only is this stimulating to the eye, but it also enhances the undeniable factor of fun, present throughout, immensely.
Despite this intentional vagueness, we can still sense the urgency behind the central figure of each involvement. On some vastly unspoken level, the bare-bones information we are given is more than satisfactory. This is demonstrated so skillfully that the illusion of becoming one with the lead, sharpened through the ploy at hand, is all the more seamless. Consecutively, we find ourselves thinking, questioning and assessing each situation. This is as the main character must be doing himself. Such is just another signpost of the daring instincts courageously instilled into each affair.
In De Santi’s account, contract killer Frank Zimosa (in a gripping portrayal by Rayner Bourton), checks into a room. This is in the sprawling building referenced in the title. Here he receives instructions, supplied through a pair of experimental glasses, which inform him that he must kill two people. They also have recently checked into the area. Given precise details as how to slaughter this duo, one of whom is a crime boss by the name of Jorge Mistrandia (a sparse, but absorbing, enactment by Michael Howe), he immediately fails to carry out the specific manner of killing. From herein, his rules of delivering death fade away. In turn, so do the once limited instruments he can use to evoke such bloody deeds. But, soon Frank finds out that something unholy and otherworldly is going on amid his surroundings. This is when his mission turns into a living nightmare. It is one that he finds himself struggling to survive at all costs.
This is an intriguing concept. It is one that is benefited by being beautifully, cryptically mounted. The plot unfolds in the fashion of a puzzle: piece by piece. What augments the quality unveiled throughout is the stellar performances. Jessica Carroll as Frank’s Girlfriend, Christian Riva as The Plague Spreader and the Huge Female Henchmen are terrific. This is despite the fact that their roles are as limited in their development as that of Frank. The same sentiment is echoed in the representations of Wilmar Zimosa as Gomorra and Monica Munoz as the Female Serial Killer. Riccardo Valentini as Henchman in Good Health, Bonini Mino as Henchman with Chainsaw and Enrique Sorres as Sacrificial Human carve a lasting impression. This is all the more incredible given the brevity of their individual turns.
The technical details are just as stalwart. Protector 101 and Razzaw’s fierce and combative music delivers a perfect ambiance for De Santi’s cinematic bloodbath. David Borg Lopez and Sigma4’s special, and De Santi, Piranhasoldier and Tintapiatta’s visual, effects are vastly credible. Additionally, the make-up from Mo One is exceptional. The editing is just as phenomenal. De Santi, Piranhasolider, Secret Plant and Tintapiatta’s contribution to the animation department is equally spectacular.
Hotel Inferno begins and ends strongly. This is with eye-catching, repellently gruesome images. These can be seen as attention-garnering bookends. What is unveiled in between is every bit as uncompromising and grimly alluring. De Santi also presents to his audience patrons starting and concluding credit sequences that are indisputably stylish and striking. Similarly, the outdoors arrangements late in the third act are gritty, expertly shot and pulse-pounding. A segment involving an evil cultist drawing satanic figures in a room swarming with flies is one of the most hypnotic items in De Santi’s terror arsenal. Yet, there is a specific rhythm, a repetition to some of the scenes. These suggest a purgatory for Frank. This is amid the earthly hell he finds himself unwittingly drawn into.
Such items, along with the various qualities stated prior, brand this much more than a victorious cry of delight for fellow on-screen carnage fanatics. Much of De Santi’s big screen journey finds a fine balance between violent genre traditions. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find a moment that doesn’t satisfy, enchant and encapsulate on a primal, visceral level. There also isn’t a second here that doesn’t excite or fail to feel fresh and new. Because of this, De Santi has surpassed the trappings of low-budget trepidation. All the while he simultaneously respects them. He has presented a vigorous ploy for moving picture fear. It is one that may prove to be as longstanding as the concept of found footage was when it initiated its heyday in the late 90’s. The recent announcement of an upcoming sequel, called Hotel Inferno 2: The Cathedral of Pain (2016), makes me all the more eager to see what De Santi has in store.