Hotels can be notoriously scary places, especially in film. Nobody in their right mind would choose to stay at Overlook Hotel, and a quick shower at the Bates Motel could leave you with holes in more than just your wallet. But few cinematic hotels are as frankly terrifying as The Hotel in The Lobster.
There might not be crazy twins, blood rivers or psychotic murderers, but you will still lose your mind. Love and relationships are the subject of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English feature, set in a bleak, washed out dystopia where single people are taken to The Hotel and forced to find a partner within forty five days. Succeed and the new couple can move to The City. Fail and they’re turned into an animal of their choosing and left to roam the countryside alone. It is the most absurd, uniquely bizarre film you’ll see this year.
What makes The Hotel so frightening is its lack of soul. Run by stern matriarch Olivia Coleman (in superb form), the hotel guests wander like helpless children, devoid of personality, as if lobotomised. The strict regime of the prison-like yet supposedly idyllic retreat is so psychologically damaging, it strips the guests (literally) and reduces them to a single character trait. Partnerships only arise when these traits align in a match. Masturbation is disallowed, whilst the maid arouses the male guests to increase their sexual frustration. An alarm signals “the hunt” whereby guests are forced to sedate “loners” living in the countryside. It’s enough to drive guests to fake a partnership just to escape.
Yet the film’s wonderful style swings the opposite way. The dreary mise en scene, deadpan delivery and overly dramatic orchestral score combine for hilariously dry viewing. The script is full of knowing lines that heighten the film’s clear absurdity and black humour, whilst the performances of Farrell, Coleman and Ben Whishaw (as a fellow guest) are often laugh out loud funny.
This doesn’t last. Halfway through, the film turns. Escaping The Hotel, David finds himself living with the cult-like loners in the forest led by Léa Seydoux (of Spectre fame) – a mirror image of The Hotel where singledom is the order of the day. Flirting results in the “red kiss”, the slicing of lips. We’re left to image what the “red intercourse” entails. It’s here that David ironically meets his match (and the film’s narrator) in Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman, and the couple are forced to hide their true feelings. It’s also here that Lanthimos runs out of ideas. The plot meanders, the characters are less amusing, and the film’s stylistic joke runs thin as it begins to take its central conceit too seriously. The comical tone is dropped for something darker, more disturbing, and less engaging.
As a surreal satire of love, relationships and the modern obsession of finding our match, The Lobster is an extraordinary film. It explores the extreme lengths that people will go to in order to find love and asks us to question whether it’s easier to fake love when trapped in the wrong relationship, or to hide your true feelings for someone when you’re unable to commit. Love ultimately is a fickle and uncontrollable force – we are doomed with or without it. Conceptually, The Lobster is a provocative and confrontational look at fundamental human emotions, but its downbeat second half will likely leave you feeling cold.
Watch: The Lobster is out now.