Set in a neon-bathed Lake Tahoe hotel in 1969, this boldly original but frustrating noir is frontloaded with mysteries. What’s brought its four edgy guests to its doors? What’s the significance of the Nevada-California state line running smack down the middle? And why are the rooms bugged? You’d be giving it a fat zero on TripAdvisor – even before you tried getting the heroin-shooting bellhop to take your bags.
The pulp-staple guests include a salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a mysterious dame (Dakota Johnson) and a lounge singer (breakout Brit Cynthia Erivo). At least, that’s who they claim to be. You don’t even need the Richard Nixon speeches blaring in the background to feel the fug of paranoia hanging over the group.
The set-up holds you in its grip, aided by the eye-candy production design. But as writer-director Drew Goddard peels away the layers, it gets all tangled up in its own metaphors. If these false-fronted characters – and the hotel itself – represent something bigger, even a baggy final act isn’t long enough to figure out quite what it is. As with his first directorial effort, ace meta-horror ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, he has a blast toying with genre expectations, although here the payoff is a lot less satisfying.