(director/writer: Kourosh Ahari; screenwriter: Milad Jarmooz; cinematographer: Maz Makhani; editor: Kourosh Ahari; music: Nima Fakhrara; cast: Shahab Hosseini (Babak Naderi), Niousha Noor (Neda Naderi), George Maguire (Hotel Receptionist), Kathreen Khavari (Elahe), Gia More (Sara), Michael Graham (Police Officer), Elester Latham (Displaced Man), Armin Amiri (Farhad), Steph Martinez (Sofia-voice), Lily V.K. (Sofia), Leah Oganyan (Shabnam Naderi); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Alex Bretow, Kourosh Ahari, Jeffrey Allard, Cheryl Staurulakis, Armin Amiri, Mohammad Dormanesh; IFC Midnight; 2020-Iran-in Farsi with English subtitles)
“It turns into a pretty good horror pic (however there are reservations over its logic).”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the first US-produced film to receive distribution in Iran since 1969.
The Iranian-American psychological thriller is impressively directed with vigor and style by the Iranian-American filmmaker Kourosh Ahari (“The Yellow Wallpaper”/”Generations”). It’s co-written by Ahari and Milad Jarmooz. The Farsi-language production is set in a strange California hotel.
Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are a young Iranian-American married couple living in L.A. with an infant daughter, Shabnam (Leah Oganyan), who are undergoing some bumps in their marriage that causes them to quarrel.
At an upper middle-class house dinner party in the L.A. suburbs, with two other Iranian-American expat couples, Babak becomes tipsy from too much to drink and also suffers from a toothache. After an evening of playing games such as Mafia and the couple complaining about each other to the others at the party, they leave and despite being impaired Babak insists on driving Neda and his newly born daughter home. When his GP malfunctions, the car spins around in circles and leads him to the nearby landmark Hotel Normandie, built in 1926. It still functions but without modern conveniences or guests. Playing it safe, Babak decides to stay for the night there with his family not knowing they are the only guests.
The eccentric hotel receptionist (George Maguire, veteran character actor) checks them in as the hotel’s only guests into the ominous room number 414.
The film makes its way onto surreal turf, as the couple experiences spooky visions, which are good for some nervous scares.
The couple’s fears lie in the secrets they are keeping from each other, as they are back together after years apart when she couldn’t leave Iran to join hubby who fled first to the States.
They become trapped in the hotel, unable to exit due to their lies in the past. While stuck in the empty hotel, their background story is told as the enigmatic film builds to its exciting final act in the last thirty minutes (where things get explained).
It turns into a pretty good horror pic (however there are reservations over its logic), with a memorable final scene. It’s a minor film that’s unsettling, well-made, well-acted and with a heady approach to the supernatural. There’s also a nod of appreciation to Kubrick’s The Shining.
REVIEWED ON 2/12/2021 GRADE: B