Check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Stuffed full of names you know and aren’t offended to see in an ensemble cast, Hotel Artemis is the directorial debut from Drew Pearce. Set in the not-too-distant-future of 2028, the eponymous hotel in Los Angeles runs as a secret hospital for the bad guys, but rioting in the streets and unscrupulous criminals make for hard work.
Let the record show that I’m a fan of dystopian films set within spitting distance of the present day – pretty much always setting up a mild, but tangible nightmare. It’s a healthy way of warning us about how things which seem like small problems now, but which could have a huge impact further down the line. I also enjoy the minimal nudges in technology, making it seem daft that we haven’t already gotten to them yet.
Hotel Artemis features all this. In 2028, water is controlled privately and the poor are cut off, only the rich can afford it – something which we’ll struggle with as a planet at some point if we aren’t careful. As for the technology, there are small but not unimaginable items – such as a 3D printer for organs, robot arms for surgery and the ability to film and send messages through your own retina implant – showing the many ways in which we can corrupt technology so quickly. There is also the darkened cinematography, often an easy win for a dystopian movie, with all the action taking place in one night – you might even look at this as a light prequel for the 1996 film Escape from L.A.
Jodie Foster stars as a beleaguered, alcoholic old nurse running the hotel and upholding the “rules”, and she fits the role well. Her dumpy little run, her pep for getting the job done and her troubled past are all there to see in the character. She’s keeping up with the technology, but succumbing to the past. She’s ably assisted by Dave Bautista as the orderly, Everest, but when the level-headed vault robber, Sherman (played by Sterling K. Brown), brings his brother to the hotel after suffering gunshot wounds, it’s just the start of their night.
‘The set inside the hotel is great, mixing and old fashioned hotel decor of dark woods and leather upholstery with high-tech medical gadgets’
There’s enough going on to keep things entertaining, as well as Jeff Goldblum, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, Jenny Slate and Zachary Quinto adding to the list of hotel patrons. Many of the characters get fleshed out well, while some are left a little one-dimensional. The key to this sort of film, which ekes out small details, is that you have to be left wanting to see and know more about the smaller roles. But while it might be nice to know a little more about Day’s arms dealer or Boutella’s history as an assassin, there doesn’t seem to have been much more thought to the characters than their rough stereotypes – only Foster and Brown get some backstory to ground their roles. The main problem with the cast is that the central character – the hotel itself – gets overidden and blindsided by all the goings-on.
Initial scenes move quickly, and our introduction to the hotel is a nice, slick one. Once we have most of the characters settled in the hotel however, the plot lurches between a couple of locations unnecessarily. This slightly clunky editing tries to weld the different character stories together, and has some success, but it feels like the case of Sherman and his brother gets lost in the chaos a bit, leaving you caring about no one in particular.
Thankfully, the pacing generally means we aren’t made to feel claustrophobic in the dark, location themed rooms of the hotel-cum-hospital. In fact, the set inside the hotel is great, mixing and old fashioned hotel decor of dark woods and leather upholstery with high-tech medical gadgets. It’s a shame that there aren’t more exterior shots of a real building, giving the opportunity for some unassuming building to gain cult status as the Hotel Artemis. Generally, one of the disappointing things is that the script and the plot isn’t given the same stylised treatment as the locations and the costumes.
The tension which builds in the hotel – which is really where the concern of the film should have focused more – never seems fully realised, making the originality of the premise feel underutilised. Jeff Goldblum utters the coolest line of the film: “Jeanie, baby, without the rule breakers, where would you be?”, but that’s as stylish as it gets. Mostly, there is a sense of unrealised potential in all aspects – just not to the point where the film feels dull and you want to leave. While I hate to tout the idea of a franchise when studios so desperately clutch for them, it might be interesting to see international casts take on the idea of the different hotels in other countries which are mentioned. How about Neil Blomkamp directing one in Johannesburg, Taika Waititi taking one to Wellington or even Maren Ade tackling one in Berlin?
There are no monsters or otherworldly creatures in this film, just our own human future where we’ve gotten even more selfish and unkind, where the rules among thieves aren’t even upheld and the streets are being torn apart in the name of something so basic. If you’re seeking action on the basis of the trailer and the genres lumped onto the film by some popular film database sites, you’ll be pretty disappointed bar a 15 minute section towards the end. It’s not an overly funny film, but it has some laughs, and it’s not that scary but it does deal out some heavier moments – it wimps out a little on the gore, though.
My ultimate takeaway is that you ought to see this, even if it’s simply to support something original, we don’t get much of that these days, so vote with your feet.