“Make it new!” a bold, yet unoriginal slogan which has remained closely connected to numerous forms of art for at least a hundred years...
...Fans, critics, and directors typically disagree on what makes a movie enjoyable, memorable, or even marketable, but this one underlying theme always revolves around bringing innovative approaches to films. Creating a different spin on a well-practiced genre or even delving into a lesser used subgenre, introducing the audience to a new type of monster, or even bringing some fresh talent to the big screen can offer quite a bit of eye-candy for all viewers. Motel Acacia brings eco- and immigration horror, a giant tree monster of Philippine folklore, and upcoming writer/director Bradley Liew (Singing in Graveyards) together in hopes of creating an intriguing movie, but all the newness might make Motel not worth the stay.
The setting for the film might not seem like a unique place for horrible activities, but the Motel does not follow the usual rules of an establishment which caters to weary travelers and instead exists as a deathtrap for immigrants. Psycho, The Shining, and even the real-world torture chamber of H.H. Holmes all have a maniacal madman who uses a hotel as his own private killing field. Regardless if the lodgers were kidnapped, trapped, or just tired and looking for a place to sleep, the ‘guests’ quickly become victims and Motel Acacia follows a similar protocol.
Belgium actor Jan Bijvoet plays Father, the tyrannical motel owner who wrongfully promises freedom and a new life to immigrants. The building itself is not so much a motel with comfy beds, but more like an underground bunker filled with endless corridors, clanging metal doors, and secrets. And since the Motel is a family business, Father must teach the mysteries to his illegitimate son JC (JC Santos), a boy he apparently sired while visiting the Philippines. No spoilers here, but the Motel unfortunately does not provide safety to desperate immigrants. The film portrays the superior behavior established immigrants demonstrate towards incoming refugees, post-colonial themes, and terrible border regulations all add to the horrific actions which take place. At the Motel, Daddy has a God-complex and apparently, it runs in the family. Father, with the help of his newly appointed heir, feed people to a monster.
Pulling from Philippine folklore, Liew introduces the horror world to the giant man-eating, woman-raping tree monster known as Kapre. The director begins Motel Acacia in the depths of the Philippines jungle and immediately gives hints of a monster story and brief glimpses of some impressive practical effects, which helps hook the viewer into this non-genre conforming film. Father embodies everything immigrants fear at the border, and his “Motel” reflects his uncaring and abusive manner with its cold metal interior, but the added bonus of a super-natural beast matches the monstrous evils of racism. For certain parts of the film, the branchy tentacles of Kapre offer a creepy killing spree. However, when introducing the monster to women, the results come off as a bit hokey. Horror fans have to appreciate the director’s choice to integrate a lesser known creature into his film and avoid CGI, but perhaps baby tree monsters were not the best choice.
Writer/director Liew made some interesting decisions with his film and hopefully the positives of the movie prove audiences can expect better things to come, but for now the Motel Acacia lacks all the necessary pieces to put together a good film. The director does not provide a lot of background on the motel or how the victims or even the employees came to the death camp. Aside from JC, Father also employs Angeli (Agot Isidore), a Filipino mother hoping to earn money to pay her son’s medical bills. She willingly finds and brings immigrants Sami (Vithaya Pansringarm), Bront (Bront Palarae), and Don (Nicholas Saputra) to the Motel in exchange for payment. And that’s really the extent of any backstory provided to the viewer. Even though the unfortunate immigrants trapped within the walls of the Motel offer some strong acting scenes or even comic relief (possibly unintentional), the character growth and overall story remains stagnant and underdeveloped.
The setting, effects, and acting within the film create a deadly atmosphere, but the chaotic storytelling and lack of emotional connection to the characters limits the possibility of completely enjoying this film. Several parts of the movie hint at greatness and hopefully with his next film Liew will find a way for his weaknesses to not outshine his strengths. The commentary (even though a bit underdeveloped) on the unfair treatment of immigrants will hit home with some horror fans and the inclusion of a tree-monster will scratch a creature feature itch for others, so an audience does exist for this particular film. Regardless of your horror-niche, try to enjoy the film to experience some unique horror or use Motel Acacia as an introduction to a rising director.
Stay at the Motel Acacia when the film arrives on VOD and Digital May 22nd from Gravitas Ventures. You can also pre-order the film through iTunes here.
By Amylou Ahava
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