It is oddly fitting that writer/director Brad Douglas’ ‘hotel from hell’ shocker should begin with a bad career move. Bored, broke and keen to get away from the chaotic home life of her alcoholic mother, young city girl Amanda Millard takes up an ill-defined job opportunity in a sleepy, small-town hotel run by a seemingly kindly widow and her mentally impaired adult son. Things quickly go awry and Amanda finds herself incarcerated and the victim of a ghastly and repellent plan that could cost her sanity and her freedom, if not her life.
Sadly it soon becomes apparent that this no-budget flick’s most impressive feature is its unusual title (which refers to the state of ‘being beset’; that is, under attack from all sides). There’s scarcely an original idea in the entirity Douglas’ join-the-dots script: from the nowheresville hotel, to the ‘creepy small-town’ setting; from the insane controlling matriarch, to the submissive conflicted son; from the doomed bid to rescue the prisoner, to the last-minute act of revenge with a hidden weapon, from the not-long-for-this-world local boyfriend to the macabre enforced wedding. Even at a running time of just over 75 minutes, Besetment is not the sane choice for a ‘spot the horror movie cliché’ drinking game.
That would still be OK, if the movie delivered unoriginal material with some sense of panache or elan, or found some fresh motifs or storytelling techniques. But unfortunately it doesn’t. It’s as though it’s beset by the need to avoid any cinematic individuality of its own.
Realistic about the film’s most likely destination (as a title in a ‘video on demand’ library), Douglas is careful to have the camera shy away from the more grotesque images that his storyline serves up. As a result, the film exhibits a strange tonal mixture of the repugnant (and there are some truly unpleasant scenes to endure) and the bashful. Even the chilling act of disfigurement that features prominently on the movie’s posters happens off-camera.
In a pretty thankless role, Abby Wathen is able to make the guileless Amanda a likeable enough heroine. Yet pride of place, amidst an otherwise lacklustre cast, goes to Marlyn Mason, who manages the shift from saintly spinster to deranged, scenery-chewing villainess with complete conviction (something that doubtless reflects her decades of experiences on stage and small-screen). Frankly, at this point in her long career, she deserves better material than this.
The film’s closing 10 minutes are its weakest. Following a dismal “final confrontation”, key characters make unconvincing decisions before a last-minute “twist” robs the movie of any vestige of internal logic. The final freeze-frame and voice-over ensure that, as the credits roll, Besetment has never once risked deviating from the derivative.
BESETMENT / CERT: TBA / WRITER: BRAD DOUGLAS / DIRECTOR: BRAD DOUGLAS / CAST: ABBY WATHEN, MARLYN MASON, MICHAEL MEYER, MAX GUTFREUND, DOUGLAS ROWE / UK RELEASE: 6TH JUNE