An older man lures a teenage girl to a motel for an afternoon of depravity. An unstable former child star has gone missing. There may be alien activity afoot too. Assessed purely on these plot elements, “Motel Mist” has all the ingredients of a lurid Roger Corman-style B-movie, creating an opportunity to market this pic as an accessibly trashy slice of genre filmmaking. In reality, writer-helmer Prabda Yoon’s stylistic pretensions place his debut in a different category: He would appear to have been studying the playbooks of provocateurs including Harmony Korine, Gaspar Noé and particularly Nicholas Winding Refn, to sporadically enlivening effect.
Shot in just 15 days, “Motel Mist” achieves a measure of significance as the debut of a prolific literary phenomenon. With over twenty original authorial credits to his name, Yoon has also translated “The Catcher in the Rye” and “A Clockwork Orange” into Thai, and is currently working on “Lolita” — selections that reveal as much about his preoccupations as “Motel Mist” itself does.
Throughout the film, Chananun Chotrungroj’s camera lingers lasciviously on teenaged Laila (Prapamonton Eiamchan), as she is humiliated, ball-gagged and bound spreadeagled in front of a television set showing porn. Whether audiences are supposed to be disgusted or aroused — or perhaps both — by her debasement isn’t totally made clear by the film’s ambivalent attitude to her eventual vengeance. The latter is skipped through far more quickly and, despite some superficial blood-letting, feels a bit perfunctory. It’s an example of a phenomenon that riddles the abuse/revenge sub-genre, where the filmmaker seems far more lavishly devoted to the abuse half of the dynamic.
For all its grubbiness, “Motel Mist” often achieves an undeniable sleazy charm — it’s too silly to feel properly exploitative. The presence of a former child star having a breakdown and communing with aliens in the room next door to all the sexual antics adds to the sense that none of this neon-soaked pulp fiction is meant to be taken too seriously.
Surapol Poonpiriya is effective as the villainous Sopol, but the true star of the film is Rasiguet Sookkarn’s production design, which rises to the challenge of the largely two-room setting without feeling overly constricted by either space or budget. The score, which sympathizes with the tastes of whoever has the upper hand in a given scene, is rarely subtle, but nor should it be: Subtlety is anathema to this film’s chosen aesthetic.
Given the buzzing blinking neon signs, slo-mo dildo fights, kinky fetish elements and stylized violence involved, “Motel Mist” certainly delivers the necessary visual elements for a campaign geared towards fans of midnight specials. As in Winding Refn’s loosely comparable “Only God Forgives,” the stately pacing might prove a letdown for any audiences expecting a gonzo head trip. Distributors must choose whether to accurately communicate its arthouse elements, or bet their chips on a potentially more bankable T&A package.