Dir/scr: Jessica Hausner.Austria. 2004. 82mins

Hotel is the kind of shaggy dog story that might have madean effective short but feels too insubstantial and enigmatic to measure up as afull-length film. The second feature from LovelyRita writer-director Jessica Hausner is only a partially successful attemptto inject some fresh ideas into the kind of suspenseful situation that mightonce have inspired a Hitchcock or a Polanski.

Hotel has a certain chilly visual style and sustains itsair of mystery but feels underdeveloped and uncertain of its identity, failingto deliver the thrills and spills expected by genre fans or the more cerebralpleasures that might have attracted an arthouse crowd.

Further festival exposureafter it played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes seems possible but it isunlikely to attract many theatrical reservations.

The hotel of the title is agloomy, underpopulated establishment in the Austrian Alps filled with long,empty corridors and dark, shadowy corners. It is the kind of place where youmight expect to find Jack Nicholson as the winter caretaker. Irene (Weisz) ismore like a blonde, Hitchcock ice maiden.

The new receptionist, she isreplacing a girl who has simply disappeared without trace. Nobody on the staffknows what has happened to her and various events fuel Irene's imagination.Staff members are questioned by authority figures. A pond is dredged.Everything seems to point to foul play and Irene is also told of the area'sreputation as a place where people go missing including a party of hikers whowere never seen again. There is further talk of an enchanted forest.

Hausner certainly has thebasic material here to create a disturbing psychological chiller and does buildsome tension about what is really going on. Irene is constantly framed inisolation from other people. Her hotel colleagues are aloof and unwelcomingwith one of them warning her to leave.

Her necklace is stolen. Weare led to believe that she is being watched when she takes her solitary swimsafter work in the hotel pool. When she meets a young man called Erik (Scharf)it's hard to tell whether he can be trusted. All the time, the woods appear to be calling her and issuingan invitation to enter their dark shadows that she will not be able to resist.

It sounds like the basis ofa Blair Witch-style chiller but Hausner stubbornly refuses to deliverthe goods. She plants evidence that may be significant, teases the audiencewith tales of mysterious caves and the German myths of the Lady Of The Wolves.Everything is deliberately understated, implicit and unresolved and fulfils herstated game plan of working against the conventions expectations of such genrematerial.

Unfortunately, the result isa film with a weak and predictable pay off that will leave both mainstream andarthouse viewers feeling that they've been led up the garden path rather thaninto the woods.

Prod cos: coop99 Filmproducktion, Essential Filmproduktion
Int'l sales:
The CoproductionOffice
Antonin Svoboda, PhilippeBober, Martin Gschlacht, Susanne Marian
Exec prod:
Bruno Wagner
Martin Gschlacht
Art dir:
Katharina Woppermann
Karina Ressler
Main cast:
Franziska Wisz, BirgitMinichmayr, Marlene Streeruwitz, Rosa Waissnix, Christopher Scharf