Hotel Artemis starts off as a sort of near-future spin-off of John Wick, focusing on its own set of rules detached from the everyday life that we experience. It seeks satisfaction in that discrepancy, finding moments of intrigue in how that ruleset will never remain unchallenged—and moments of joy when it does break. The film, however, just like its owner, does not seem to be prepared for this moment. The end result of what should have been a unique experience is a disappointing muddle of something quite average and forgettable.
Most of the film takes place on a single floor of a building, cut off from the rest of the world that is descending into a late-capitalist dystopia. It does an adequate job of making sure that the hotel has two faces: a safe haven from outside and a claustrophobic jail cell that is a single rule-break away from becoming its own hell. One might even say it is a strange, twisted home-invasion film, judging by how it initially sets up its titular hotel.
The setup for the film is great: a members-only hotel/hospital run by an eccentric nurse (Jodie Foster) and her brute assistant (Dave Bautista) slowly loses its control as each new patient who visits the night brings more problems than she can deal with. The weight of those problems strains the tight ruleset she has been operating under for twenty-two years… until it finally snaps. From the mash-up of shaky art-deco and similarly questionable-looking near-future medical technology to its straight-out-of-comic-book characters, the titular hotel looks more and more like a time bomb than an actual safe haven. And that should be a good thing. However, the film slowly drags, proving that initial setup is not enough to reach the film’s ultimate potential.
The suspense is there, in theory, because of the narrative setup as a thriller and the time-ticking soundtrack, but it never truly grips the audience. It is impossible to miss all the narrative devices director/screenwriter Drew Pearce places in plain sight, and as the film progresses, the film sleazily teases its artifice more and more, making each subsequent encounter with a narrative turning pointless and less compelling.
Twists are perhaps a little bit safe—far safer than its claustrophobic setup. It’s perhaps because the characters do what they look like they are going to do: the sexy French assassin does what she is foreshadowed to do, the gentleman thief stays gentleman-like throughout, the self-absorbed annoying guy does something stupid out of his own insecurity, the bad guy turns out to be bad, and the insecure bad guy turns out to be insecure.
In a thriller like this, that focus on the relentless drive of the narrative may be an advantage, but Hotel Artemis misses the mark by failing to give much weight to these moments.
When a bang does go off, it rarely feels genuinely shocking because it is set up far too simply and shallowly. Such moments are briefly satisfying, rarely lingering, leaving the audience thinking, “All right let’s move on.” In a thriller like this, that focus on the relentless drive of the narrative may be an advantage, but Hotel Artemis misses the mark by failing to give much weight to these moments.
Then there is the emotional gravity of the film, which sadly feels as if it works to drag the film down rather than keep it in place. While the audience is introduced to the fascinating claustrophobic space with colorful inhabitants that are about to go off, the film soon changes its course to tell a story focused on the Nurse, her past, and her anxiety. As the film does so, the characters soon lose their eccentricity and begin to move in cohesion.
This essentially erases the interesting setup the film had with its characters and confined space and instead streamlines the film into a battle between two opposing sides. The hotel itself loses its charm along the way as well and reveals how it never really was all that intricate underneath its aesthetic surface. The audience becomes increasingly aware that the hotel never really achieved its full potential as a complex cinematic space other than its function of separating the characters from the outside world.
When the narrative reaches its conclusion, it is ultimately not all that exciting either. The film stands on the premise that everyone in the hotel is lethal, yet when things do go haywire, the action surprisingly remains tame. There are no real standouts during the climax, nor is it a particularly memorable one. It almost feels as if the scene needed to happen and everything, including the character motivations that justify it, was constructed hastily to make sure it happens.
This reveals the biggest flaw in Hotel Artemis: regardless of the interesting setup, none of the characters truly feel like they have their own motivations that exist outside of the narrative function—they are simply not allowed to develop in the first place. The narrative functions to drive forward, but the characters become more and more flat and inconsistent, ultimately losing their significance as a link between the story and the audience.
What keeps the drive forward then are the performances from the film’s all-star cast, and while none of them are exceptional, Pearce at least makes sure that each actor gets to do what he or she does best. Foster is the obvious highlight here, even though this is far from her best performance. She nevertheless anchors the story more or less—even though the narrative needs little to anchor itself anyway. She is given what is largely a character acting role, and that is exactly what she does here. While it does not make her character any more insightful, it at least makes it competent to the narrative.
Goldblum, who has more of a cameo appearance, does typical recent Goldblum. Bautista, adopting his Drax-persona from Guardians of the Galaxy, delivers his signature comic performance that fits surprisingly well into the atmosphere, providing much needed comic relief along the way. Sophia Boutella is once again a sexy assassin, a role she was and still is comfortable in. And of course, Day continues to excel at being annoying, appropriate to his role.
However, these performances, mostly because they are merely confined to their roles as little more than narrative props, never quite help the narrative to be more than its average self. The film’s mise-en-scene, especially the set design, lures the audience into its world, yet it is also its own undoing as it reveals how hollow it feels and how emotionally-detached it is to the audience. It is an interesting place to visit, but it doesn’t do all that well in making you want to stay. It certainly isn’t a hotel I’m looking forward to visiting again any time soon.