Motel Mist is a sleazy slow-burning mystery from Thailand
Motel Mist is a multi-threaded Thai mystery mood piece without a genre to hem it in, but its influences have been metabolized into something unique with an intertia all its own. Literary sensation Prabda Yoon’s 2016 debut film has just been released on iTunes, VOD and DVD (April 30th) by North American distributor Breaking Glass Pictures and Philadelphia-based worldwide sales rep Rain Trail Pictures .
There is a risk of saying too much about the verging-on-exploitation Motel Mist. The revelations come slowly, built upon increasing anxieties and prefaced by ever more questions. Suffice it to say, three distinct narrative threads interweave at Motel Mistress, a dilapidated love motel on the outskirts of Bangkok, left rather desolate one mid afternoon. Its sole employee is Tot (Wissanu Likitsathaporn ), a grungy seemingly aimless 20-something sweet talks a prospective girlfriend over the phone while working his odd job as motel concierge and parking lot attendant and dreaming of becoming… something, anything. Sopol (Surapol Poonpiriya) a sleazy, short-tempered older man lures Laila ( Prapamonton Eiamchan ), a young high-school girl to his custom designed erotic chamber at the motel for some unsuitable games, a young man named Tul (Vasuphon Kriangprapakit ) arrives and insists on having room #5 who seems to be preparing form something peculiar, and a mother looks for her missing former-child-star son who suffers from what sounds like schizophrenia, her story seen all over the news and dominating the periphery of the film.
Motel Mist has good company in Tsai Ming Liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003) with its restrained camera, long takes, and seedy voyeurism at an isolate location. Yoon also nods to the angst and trauma of Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin (2004) and winks at the brooding, non-expositional, scifi-tinged stylings of Under The Skin (2013). Absent of a traditional musical score, save for a disturbing old sexual assault-themed pop song during the opening credits and periodic use of classical music which portents a kind of twisted contrapuntal (if not irreverent) nature to the proceedings, there is spare use of subtle electronic tones or textures while largely deferring to the silence of the room. The mounting tensions of each scene create their own imperceptible soundscape in the mind. Yoon further compounds the dialectics of Motel Mist through saturated chromatic shifts from cool to warm neon schemes, somehow distinctly indoor-to-outdoor scene changes, and the fact that these darker endeavors unfold while the sun is still up. The tone and drama therefore is set by the pacing, performances, locations (hats off to Rasiguet Sookkarn’s resourceful production design) and peripheral elements/characters (first implicitly present and later explicitly, creating the film’s strongest dialectic aspects). Yoon has no cards up his sleeve, nowhere to hide in the sparsity of elements and methods on display, which makes Motel Mist a much bolder, visceral and grating vision than one with either over-designed sound/score or an intent to artificially accelerate a scene. Motel Mist is in no rush by design and effective because of it.
Motel Mist is ultimately about shifts in power, and changing perceptions of the nature of that power. At its most fundamental, this is the action that takes place, and those teetering imbalances which are the result of measured and often discomforting accretions of time, hazard and ambiguity, engender different reactions. One is satisfying, one a relief, one frightening, one heart breaking, one wholly unexpected, each complex. The best thing that Motel Mist does, beyond the purity of its execution, is that it leaves more questions than answers, and there is a very specific kind of electricity in the air of that not-knowing which keeps Motel Mist on the brain long after the credits roll. Perhaps because the characters themselves are steeped in various kinds of not-knowing, this sort of non-ending impacts us as a continuation or externalization of those internal ambiguities or ambivalence.