Starring Jenjira Pongpas, Maiyatan Techaparn. Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 57 min. Opens Jan. 18 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Haunted hotels are a staple of the horror genre, but it’d be a stretch to compare Thai maestro Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel to The Shining. It’s more helpful to think of this small, glistening movie as a cousin to the director’s previous masterpiece, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, with which it shares a gentle approach to the supernatural.
This isn’t to say that all of its ghosts are benign. At one point, inter-dimensional beings invade and compel the main characters—tentative lovers Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) and Phon (Maiyatan Techaparn)—to chow down on raw entrails. This sequence is of no greater or lesser importance than any of the other interactions in this languid, episodic film, which is set entirely inside the titular establishment, mostly on the balcony, where the characters trade stories while overlooking a scenic river. Apichatpong himself appears onscreen as a film director auditioning musicians for his new project—a mild art-imitating-life flourish.
Trawling for explicit meaning in Apichatpong’s elliptical films is often a mug’s game, and the fact that Mekong Hotel consists partially of leftovers from another aborted project makes it even harder to decode. But the fact that it was shot in the aftermath of a massive flood in 2011 lends both its waterside setting and allusions to the spirit world a little bit of weight, and the rest of the film—like so much in this gifted filmmaker’s body of work—just floats enjoyably and elusively across the screen.