By Jaime Grijalba
Mutating throughout the years as a visual and interactive project that finally crystalized in a web series that was later compiled and released as a film, Hotel (2012) isn’t just maybe the best video game related film of recent years, but it also is one of the most profound audiovisual works that have been made in this decade so far. While conscious of its limitations, Nuel works around them and makes a film that is freeform and where literally anything can happen, where the conversations between the characters reminisce the ones of the films of Manoel de Oliveira in their deadpan delivery and the profound nature of the themes that are being worked, while the structure and the visual cues are the closest thing that 3D animation has ever got to be Ruizian.
The film faces its conception all the way through the end: the guilt-ridden mind of someone who has spent too much time playing video games and hasn’t made anything useful or valuable with their lives. This is the digital equivalent of what Godard would make later in his 3D film Adieu au langage, being this some sort of “Adieu au jeu vidéo”, where the world itself is being constantly put to the test to the idea of reality. To think of what programs or characters from popular franchises do when a computer is turned off, is something that could be playful and fun to think about, but here is just fodder for philosophical questionings and rhetorical conversations that question the concept of glitch, virus, virtual reality, agency, artificial intelligence, and many other concepts that maybe aren’t spoken out loud, but they are in the basis of everything that the mumbling terrorists speak.
But it’s not just the heavy transcendent talk that makes up for the interesting elements of this film, as it also is incredibly entertaining and funny. It makes fun of the tropes and ideas behind the logic of video games, the idea of repetition and identity, how every character looks the same but everyone recognizes each other (but us as audience do not), but sometimes they get confused, they play games with each other because it’s the only way in which they find any sort of purpose, and it’s the only way in which they bend the rules of the “hotel” in which they are staying as they wait between games in what seems an eternal vacation. An image that is unforgettable is the first glitch that sets the rest of the film in motion: the terrorists play a game of volleyball, there are around thirty similarly clothed figures per side, jumping at the same time to hit the ball, which goes from one side to the next; suddenly, the floor beneath them starts to glitch out, and the pieces of land start to break and fall into the black void that’s under every videogame map (something that we’re able to see before through the movements of the digital camera, and where the end of the film takes place), and they start to fall, screaming. It’s harrowing and funny at the same time. The idea of digital death is also the idea of respawning somewhere else, but here that concept is forbidden. It’s the death of the digital, death to video games.