*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Hotel" (2004) is quite a good movie, easy for me to recommend as worthy, but it doesn't satisfy most viewers as its IMDb rating of only 5.4 shows. That's a shame. To me, it suggests that most viewers want to stick with the conventional and don't want to venture into something more creative, more individual and more artistic. This movie is minimalist. It provides relatively little information and no solution to its final outcome. This may disappoint viewers who want answers and everything tied up in a neat bundle.
The movie has artistic integrity, showing the hand of the writer-director Jessica Hausner. The ways in which she creates foreboding are such things as shadowy hallways with pools of darkness at their ends, a dark and empty stairwell, a darkened swimming pool, silent meals and silent glances, towering trees and a dark forest inviting one to get lost, a large dark cave and, most of all, the self-contained figure of the novice clerk, Franziska Weisz, in a red outfit, walking and looking inquiringly, hesitantly, somewhat fearfully but attracted nonetheless to the unknown.
"Hotel" is a neo-noir loosely in the horror genre, but nothing horrible ever happens on screen. No monster ever appears. No clear supernatural events occur. It eschews the usual devices and shocks. One will not shudder or get goose pimples watching this. The movie is more like "Cat People" (1942). It is eerie and mysterious. The story takes place in Bavaria, I think, at a hotel adjacent to an old forest and a nearby cave sporting a witchcraft legend.
We the viewers have to fill in the blanks. We have to feel what this story is about, and we may not all feel the same things.
Weisz plays Irene, a young woman on her first job. We learn that she will be judged in the future on how she performs on this job. The sense we get is of a rigid society and a controlled youth. Some young adults seek escape in dancing, booze and sex but they seem disconnected from each other. Irene reaches out for deeper communication with one young man but the physical aspects predominate. The adults at the hotel all have their individual tasks and are not friendly with one another on the job. Common meals are eaten in silence. They don't offer much training or encouragement to the novice, Irene. She practically has to beg to use the swimming pool off-hours.
Good advice to Irene is sporadic but definite. At the very beginning, the manager instructs her to check the basement. They come to a locked door and he says "The door must be kept locked. The devil never sleeps." Later, an older woman advises her bluntly "Leave the hotel", but she cannot rapidly do this because she's committed herself to giving several months' notice. Her reputation and credentials will be harmed within the rigid society. Isolation, lack of communication, a breakdown in humanity, and human coldness all are part of the environment depicted.
Irene's predecessor Eva has mysteriously vanished and several cops appear from time to time in their investigations. There is a rumor they've found something but we never learn what it might be. The cops don't share information or warn anyone, and no one at the hotel says anything either. Irene finds a pair of Eva's glasses in the back of a drawer and even wears them for a time when some unknown party breaks her glasses and steals her necklace, which is a cross. Irene is following in Eva's footsteps. Later her cross is returned after being found in the forest.
The work rules suppress Irene. Eva "had boyfriends by the dozens. And it's not allowed." After Irene has her boy friend visit her room, she's reprimanded. Irene likes to smoke a cigarette now and then, an innocent enough vice but her minor deviation may cost her dearly. She opens the locked basement door and goes outside to smoke near the forest. One time when outside she turns and finds the door closed, but not locked. Irene's cross seems to protect her. When she lends it to another girl in exchange for changing shifts so she can go home for a visit, that door suddenly is closed and locked. She starts off through the forest to go around to the front of the hotel.
Irene is quite stiff and unsmiling most of the time, only very gradually becoming more relaxed and confident on her job. But the hotel clients can be quite abrupt, demanding and rude. Several times during the movie, we see Irene's back as she steadily and slowly walks down a corridor toward a dark area or passes into it. Irene is naturally curious. She's curious about what happened to Eva. She's curious about that darkness, which is the unknown. Exploring the unknown carries danger. The story doesn't spell out the danger, but it suggests that if one ignores warnings and explores it one had better be prepared to encounter it.