Driving down that long, dark, lonely road and in the distance you see a beacon of light. Something that draws you in, offers you refuge from the monotony of driving endless more hours. Yes, it might not be the most comfortable and salubrious place but it looks warm and has a bed. I give you the motel.
And that’s how it starts. This innocent looking place has none of the grandeur of the hotel, nothing lavish and certainly not as imposing. Whereas hotels are places of luxury, motels thrive in the bargain basement. Motels are offered as a necessity rather than an option. These are places to use rather than enjoy. Motels, due to their very nature, are usually isolated and outside of cities, next to a busy road. A perfect, nondescript place for hiding out or for carrying out a villainous tasks, which leads to the dark-leaning of most of these films. Where hotels are mainly homely, well-lit, congenial places, motels are throw-away, dimly lit, solo places. Something to hide or something nefarious to do? Then the humble motel is the place to be or to do it.
Drew Goddard’s directorial follow-up to the excellent Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale, is in cinemas today. It centres around seven strangers who each are hiding dark secrets that come to a head on one night in the aforementioned run-down location.
The following films, in some way, showcase the motel. OK, so the motel might not be the most important part of the film but they do play a part in either supporting the films’ themes or provide the location for pivotal acts to occur. Either way, the following are fantastic in their own way and utilise the uniqueness of the motel.
Top of this list – and probably everyone else’s – has to be one of the most famous motels in cinematic history: The Bates Motel, made famous by the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), on the run after stealing money from work, turns off the highway in a downpour while looking for refuge and is unfortunate in her choice of isolated motel. With the ever-so-pleasant Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) assisting her and making her feel comfortable in her hour of need, Hitchcock is setting the viewer up for the rest of the film in tension and disbelief.
From Dusk Til Dawn
This one isn’t based solely in a motel, but a large part of the first act is; and it is here that we find out all about our protagonists before we get to the real crux of the film. Once again the motel provides anonymity and protection as well as privacy to carry out despicable acts. The introduction to the Gecko brothers (Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney) and the time they spend hiding out in the motel shows us so much about this duo and their hostages before we get down to the real action. It may not seem important in the larger picture of this absolutely crazy film but it does allow us to know the cast before the meltdown that happens later on.
Psychological thriller/horror film Identity utilises a motel set up really well. Once again it seems, the inhabitants of the motel rooms are there due to a torrential storm and are isolated as well, just to top things off. When the inhabitants realise that they are being targeted and killed off one by one, that is when the safe haven motel turns into something darker. The beauty of motels and hotels is the identical rooms, especially in films where you need to create a little distrust or misdirection as to which room you are in and what you should expect to see there. Identity plays with this idea even more so in that the main character has issues himself and, well, it is worth a watch to find out what is going on here.
A youthful prank turns nasty at a distant motel as playful university students try to trick a lonely long distance trucker into thinking that he is in for a good time, only for the trick to turn ever so violently back on the tricksters. This time the anonymity of the motel is broken down as it is the monitoring of the actions of others in next-door rooms that is pivotal to the story here. When the trick goes wrong the maniacal revenge seeker is relentless in the pursuit of the joke makers.
Leonard Shelby’s inability to form new memories is the main crux of this film, but he does spend a large part of his time in his motel room recanting his story and trying to piece together his previous movements and what his many messages to himself mean. I’m sure everyone who has seen this film can picture Leonard standing and staring into the mirror, deciphering his tattoos. His room is drab and characterless but it is always there for him, never-changing and reliable. His friends and enemies? Not so much. Good ol’ motel room, you can trust it.
There are plenty of hotel-related films but do you have any motel movies? Check this brand new clip from Bad Times at El Royale and then let us know your thoughts in the comments.